Which one of these is not like the other: homicide, rape, kidnapping, arson, prostitution, and civil disorder? While all of these are included as stipulations that could make a teacher ineligible for licensure, it seems shocking that the last crime is even remotely considered to be in the same category. Civil disobedience, classified by North Carolina as “any public disturbance involving acts or violence by assemblages of three or more persons,” may be the Trojan horse in Senate Bill 867 used to further stifle the voices of teachers.
The war for public education reform is still going strong in North Carolina. Last week, teachers were arrested for protesting in front of the Governor’s office. This week, they are trying to make amendments to Senate Bill 867.
The bill, also titled “Protect Students in Schools”, is a new piece of legislature that would call for stricter background checks on teachers and school personnel. On the surface, that sounds great. Who wouldn’t want a solid background check for the individuals that are with their students every day?
But, if you start to read the fine print on this bill, there are a few hidden points that seem to directly target the teachers in a negative way. For instance, in addition to newly required fingerprinting and the standard background check, licensure hopefuls are subjected to a morality clause that could set their application up for further scrutiny. Specifically, if they “otherwise fail to meet the standards and criteria adopted by the State Board of Education governing ethics and moral character required for professional educators.”
Meaning that the teachers from last week who were arrested for refusing to disperse from the streets and subsequently charged with resisting a public officer could come under fire and have their teaching licenses, as well as their jobs, threatened come renewal time. As North Carolina is a Right to Work State where collective bargaining for public school teachers is banned, peaceful demonstrations were one of the few methods left to protest for better resources and educational standards in support of their children.
Senators Barefoot, Newton, and Wade- the primary co-sponsors of Bill 867- were not immediately available for comment at time of publication, but the article will be updated with any responses received.
Justin Parmenter, a Charlotte, NC seventh grade teacher, shares his worries. “My concern is that legislation intended to keep our children safe should not be used to stop teachers from advocating on behalf of their students," he states. "There is a big difference between keeping those who have been convicted of violent crimes out of the classroom and discouraging teachers from engaging in civil disobedience. Does anyone honestly think that a teacher who would sit down in the middle of the street to call attention to the lack of funding for education is a danger to their students?”
The bottom line is, background checks are something that we can all agree are a requirement in this day and age -- no one is disputing that. What teachers are asking for is that Bill 867 be amended to remove Article 36A. The North Carolina General Assembly Finance House Standing Committee will be meeting soon to finalize the bill. If you think the bill should be amended, contact committee members here.
Edited to add note on collective bargaining.