Civitas Review

Progress on H.B. 13, but questions remain

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Jul
24

Earlier this week, I wrote on the potential ramifications of H.B. 13, a bill working its way through the NC Senate. While the main theme of the bill is to ensure that students entering public schools at any age undergo a health assessment, it also has the potential to rein in bureaucratic overreach at the Department of Public Instruction and Department of Health and Human Services. Yesterday, the News & Observer picked up on my concerns regarding data gathering and parental consent:

The wide-ranging amount of information collected has mobilized conservative groups to call for passage of House Bill 13.

“When properly understood, H.B. 13 is not such a bland endeavor,” Elliot Engstrom wrote Tuesday for the conservative Civitas Institute. “It is in fact a proposal to rein in a state bureaucracy that, on its own initiative, has launched a program to collect and store intimate data about children in public schools, all while requiring parents to waive their right to be involved in discussions about their child’s health.”

On Thursday, the Senate education committee held a special session just to address H.B. 13. (Normally the committee only meets on Wednesdays). Following the one-man comedy show that was Sen. Jerry W. Tillman (who conceded to the Committee that he's been wrong "one time in [his] life"), the bill passed — but with amendments.

The question, then, is whether these amendments support or undermine the causes of privacy and parental rights. The initial answer is that progress has been made, but questions remain.

The progress comes due to the fact that the bill maintains language restricting the health assessment to certain necessary elements, instead of allowing DPI and DHHS to collect and store data on anything and everything about a child. The bill also makes strides in terms of keeping parents in the know about their child, whereas the present law allows school officials to communicate with student healthcare providers without the parent's knowledge.

Questions remain on two key issues. First, the bill states that doctors can indicate to school officials "whether school follow-up is needed." It is unclear how the school can follow-up with the healthcare provider without parents first giving their consent. Second, the bill still provides that a "development screening of cognition and language abilities may be conducted in accordance with G.S. 115C-83.5(a)." Here again, there is some ambiguity. Any good kindergarten teacher is constantly monitoring things like cognition and language abilities — no controversy there. However, G.S. 115C-83.5(a) has a plethora of potential issues in its own right.

The bill now goes to the full Senate, after which it will return to the House for final approval.

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