by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Last week, the John Locke Foundation released “A Parents’ Bill of Rights for North Carolina.” It is a concept piece designed to advance the John Locke Foundation’s ongoing efforts to educate parents about ways that they can be effective advocates for their children. We hope lawmakers will affirm their commitment to families by ratifying a parents’ bill of rights based on our proposal.
“A Parents’ Bill of Rights for North Carolina” is an extension of the rights that have been codified in Chapter 115C: Elementary and Secondary Education of the North Carolina General Statutes for decades. State statute includes dozens of provisions related to the rights of parents and guardians, but there are notable omissions, particularly those related to transparency, accountability, and school choice. Moreover, few enforcement mechanisms or penalties are imposed on schools and districts that violate statutory provisions.
Finally, state statute does not enumerate parental rights conveniently or systematically. Instead, they are scattered throughout a 600-page chapter that creates legal, fiscal, and institutional frameworks for elementary and secondary schooling in North Carolina. By outlining existing statutory requirements applicable to parents and guardians, the necessity and urgency of codifying an accessible list of parental rights becomes apparent.
Below is an overview of the major categories of parental rights that currently exist under state law and examples of rights that many parents may not know they possess.
School districts are obligated to provide certain types of information to families, but statutes rarely specify how to transmit that information. In most cases, electronic communications are sufficient to meet the statutory requirement, even though it may not be the most effective way to disseminate the information.
State law mandates that parents receive information or resources related to the following topics:
Finance and Student Discipline
Informational rights are passive, whereas engagement rights actively solicit input from parents and guardians and provide avenues for their participation. State law requires local and state education officials to obtain parental feedback related to the following concerns:
Statutes also require parental involvement on school improvement teams, even mandating that meetings be held at a time convenient to parents.
Procedural rights require school districts to establish policies that identify a course of action under specific circumstances, usually concerning the health or well-being of the child. For example, state law requires school districts to formulate formal policies related to the following matters:
School districts must also provide details of parental rights under state and federal law related to student records and “opt-out opportunities for disclosure of directory information as provided under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1232g, and notice and opt-out opportunities for surveys covered by the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, 20 U.S.C. § 1232h.”
Moreover, state law requires that the State Board of Education provide written notification of “its intent to conduct any mandatory student or parent surveys in individual local school administrative units or on a statewide basis, including a copy of the proposed survey.”
Parents and guardians have multiple rights to withdraw their children from instructional settings that they find objectionable. Parents may choose to opt their children out of reproductive health and safety education, advanced learning opportunities, and reading camp attendance under Read to Achieve. As mentioned above, federal law affords parents certain rights concerning their children’s education records, including allowing parents to inspect, correct, and limit the dissemination of their child’s information.
The pandemic produced an unexpected but welcome parental rights revolution in education. As parents continue to play an active role in advocating for their children, the John Locke Foundation will continue to provide the resources needed to support and strengthen their efforts.