COOLEY: Do parents have rights?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left at podium, speaks before signing a child welfare bill, Tuesday, April 12, 2022, at Miami Dade College in Miami. The bill increased benefits for foster care parents, guardians and children. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

This seems to be the burgeoning question surrounding school board meetings, telegram feeds and private Facebook groups these days. With an ever-so-popular Parental Bill of Rights set in place by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, parents around the country are starting to question, “Wait, when did I not have rights as a parent?”  This was a question I asked myself, as reports of hidden agendas and secrecy from parents were flooding my text messages from fellow concerned parents in my own community in Wilmington. I have always been one to dig in and find the facts for myself, thus creating my own opinion after doing my own research. What I found was amazing 

Since all school board and committee meetings must be available to the public, I was able to review a video meeting with our New Hanover County School’s Title IX Committee from October 2020 where a Gender Support Plan was being introduced under the pretense of including the parents on a case-by-case basis. According to this plan, introduced for K-12 students in our district, if students want to change their gender, they can go to a staff member at school who will then utilize the gender support form and review it with the student. If the staff member believes during this assessment that the parents of the child are not supportive of the child’s decision – a line item in the plan asks for a rating of the parents’ level of support using a scale of 1-10 – a low score rating is given to the parent and a mentor is assigned to the student. The parents will be notified on a case-by-case basis depending on what the school official feels is best for the child. Full stop. 

Since when was it the duty and responsibility of the school to evaluate and assign a score to parental support? And when did parents start getting excluded from their children’s lives, education and school experience?  

The implications should be alarming for any parent. If school administrators feel comfortable removing parental consent on this issue, there’s likely more being hidden from parents.  That is when I remembered a Title IX survey that my daughter had taken in November 2021. At the time, she was eleven and had just started the sixth grade. Her younger brother was in first grade and so as she transitioned into this new academic phase, I made a point to stay as closely involved as I could. My requests to review a copy of the survey were rebuffed by school administrators for weeks.  A local reporter was offered a copy of the survey within 24 hours after one inquiry. Evidently, media reporters have better access to my child’s school materials than do her own parents.  

I was appalled at the content of the survey. The climate survey was to gauge sexual harassment and sexual assault taking place within our schools. They first asked students to identify their specific gender with seven options which included such identities as “Two Spirit.” I, nor any other adults I asked, knew what this meant. Neither did my eleven-year-old daughterThe next phase of the survey, different types of sexual assault and harassment examples were given in which the concept of pornography was introduced. Again, my eleven-year-old did not know what pornography was and I certainly was not going to explain it to her.. The school board insists that we could have “opted out” of the survey, yet the school, Title IX Coordinator, nor the email from NHCS informing me of the survey include such an option. For a board that claims to be transparent, they were content to leave parents mostly in the dark. 

So, “Do parents have rights?” According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) we most certainly do. This Federal Law protects not only students, but the parents as well. In this, we as parents are allowed to view any official records or documents as it pertains to our children in school. Yet these laws are being flouted by administrators who have decided particular social agendas hold sway over a parents’ natural role and responsibility concerning their child’s education.  

I truly believe that we are at the most critical juncture in history as it pertains to our children, their safety and their future. After exposure from a media interview on the topic, Parents from my county and across the state who’ve had similar experiences reached out to me sharing their own stories of frustration and concern.   The introduction of Gender Support Plans finally brought evidence of what we as parents were already distrusting of  – ideological agendas in the name of inclusion, at the exclusion of Parents. Our children have become the pawns in this movement.  You can interchange the issue but the core remains:  It is unlawful for any medical professional or educational personnel to keep information from a parent regarding their children.   

As a single mom, I am thankful to have a custody agreement that clearly defines my legal right as a parent. It states that all medical care providers, educational personnel and any other person deemed by law to have a confidential relationship to my minor children are legally authorized and obligated to discuss any and all matters with me regarding my children’s health, education, religious rearing and general welfare. This is considered standard language for the state of North Carolina, and it makes the answer to my original question absolutely clear 

But we must stand up for it. If there was ever a time to vet your candidates and exercise your right to vote, it’s right now. It’s time to review old emails and newsletters from your child’s school, to contact your local school board and share your concerns, to ask questions. It is time to stand firm for our rights as parents and to elect leaders who will stand with us, before it’s too late. 


Chelsea Cooley, Miss USA (2005), lives in Wilmington with her two children who are enrolled in the New Hanover County School System.