NC Bill Would Let a Few Parents Oust School Leaders, Prosecute Librarians

Demonstrators crowd the rotunda outside the House and Senate galleries during a special session at the North Carolina Legislature in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

By Michael McElroy

July 13, 2023

An education bill could allow just five parents to get a superintendent fired, regardless of the merits of the complaint. 

A sprawling education bill introduced by Republicans in the legislature this week, would give members of conspiracy and hate groups the power to push out any school superintendent who doesn’t share their view of the world. 

The bill, Senate Bill 90, would also allow parents who discriminate against LGBTQ students to punish librarians who give these student books that help them feel seen. And it would give legislators, who have already ignored warnings from doctors on abortion rights and other vital issues, outsized power over educators to decide what is taught in public schools.

SB 90 was introduced Tuesday night and was scheduled to be heard during an education committee meeting on Wednesday. Right before the meeting, however, the bill was quickly pulled off the agenda. The bill could return at anytime, but it is unclear if it has widespread support from Republicans. GOP Senators Michael Lazzara of Onslow County, Amy Galey of Alamance and Vickie Sawyer of Iredell sponsored the bill.

It does, however, fit a clear pattern of Republican efforts to defund and destabilize public schools, Democrats and public school advocates say.

In May, Gov. Roy Cooper declared that North Carolina public schools faced a “state of emergency” over other legislation that would further drain vital resources from the already underfunded public school system and divert them to a private system that would save wealthy families lots of money. 

 “The Republican legislature is aiming to choke the life out of public education,” Cooper said in a video address to the state. “The damage will set back our schools for a generation.”

Supporters of SB 90 say it is an attempt to establish a “fundamental right to parent,” and to give parents power over what their children learn, what they read, and who they can turn to for help.

The bill is a mash-up of some policies rejected in other forms during the session, including a measure that would make it more likely a student faces in-school suspension for disrespectful but non-threatening language to a teacher. 

But there are some new provisions that could allow a small but loud minority of parents to dictate what all students get to learn, and would create a hostile environment for many students whose supportive parents would lose their fundamental rights.

SB90 would:

  • establish new provisions for firing a school superintendent. If any five parents file affidavits against a superintendent and accuse him or her of violating their fundamental right to parent for any reason, then the school board has to either fire the superintendent or automatically reduce their pay. The bill does not say that a parent has to have a student in that school system, meaning, presumably, parents with students in a private school in another county could still file the formal affidavits and potentially trigger the removal. 
  • take away the power of educators to establish the state’s public school curriculum, giving it instead to a new entity, which would have the majority of its members chosen by the Republican-led legislature. 
  • erase library privacy laws for minors, meaning parents would have free access to all materials checked out by their 17-year old from either public or school libraries. It would also require librarians to keep “material harmful to minors” in an age-restricted section and make it easier for librarians to be prosecuted for violating this measure. The bill further requires parental approval for a minor to get a library card in the first place. 
  • limit what can be taught in health education classes for many elementary students, taking that decision away from experts in health and early education. The bill says any information should be based on “peer reviewed scientific research,” but it could instead mean that actual peer reviewed, scientifically backed curriculum is replaced with incomplete, half-considered instruction that ignores what children in a particular age group are going through. 

The bill, for example, says that fourth and fifth grade health teachers can tell their students that “puberty is characterized by secondary sex characteristics,” or “identify the functions of the male and female reproductive systems,” or acknowledge the “normal weight gain and body changes during puberty.” But “no further expansions of these subject areas are allowed.”

This prioritizing of politicians’ views over experts, too, is a recent pattern. Republicans in the legislature this session have acted on their opinions over contradictory evidence provided by doctors and medical experts, especially in passing the 12-week abortion ban and barring gender affirming care for minors.

  • require schools to provide detailed syllabi, course summaries, and all instructional and supplemental materials BEFORE the semester begins. The bill also gives parents the right to object to any of those materials and have them removed from the syllabus regardless of the scientific, or peer-reviewed merits of the complaint.

Kim Mackey, a Wake County teacher and public education advocate, wrote in a blog post that this provision would also mean that teachers can’t discuss any current events that crop up after the start of the semester. 

“Without a crystal ball, I do not know at the start of the course which current events I’ll incorporate into lessons to apply course concepts,” Mackey, who is also an occasional contributor to Cardinal & Pine, wrote. 

“I also respond to students’ learning needs and vary my lessons during the semester to best support them.”

She added: “It’s odd that the same ‘school choice’ supporters behind this proposal who accuse public schools of ‘one-size-fits-all’ now want to mandate that model for public schools.”

The bill would also give parents more power to object to new library books set to be added to the shelves. 


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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