North Dakota Senate kills bill requiring parent permission for students' activities

Sen. Michelle Axtman, R-Bismarck, said the bill would not be as simple as supporters portrayed it to be, and that it would negatively impact children with absentee or disengaged parents.

nd senate
The chamber of the North Dakota Senate is pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Senate on Monday rejected a bill to require written parental permission for students to participate in school activities.

Supporters said the bill would have enhanced parental rights. Opponents said the bill would have been burdensome; some told a Senate panel it could have impeded students joining a gay/straight alliance club, to support LGBTQ students.

The Senate in a 16-31 vote killed House Bill 1488 by Rep. Andrew Marschall, R-West Fargo. The state House of Representatives in February had passed the bill, 53-38.

The bill stated: "Each school district shall adopt a policy requiring written permission from a parent or guardian for a student to participate in an extracurricular activity, co-curricular activity, or club."

The Senate Education Committee had given the bill a 4-2 "do pass" recommendation. Supporters have said the bill would support parental rights and inform parents of what their children are doing in school.


"I think the parents need to have the first right of refusal on this, and having this identified takes the school district out of the ability to usurp the parents' authority," Sen. Mike Wobbema, R-Valley City, said during Senate debate Monday.

Sen. Janne Myrdal, R-Edinburg, who is a former school board member, said "There is no boogeyman here."

"The intent here is clear, is that parents are aware of what their children are involved in and not, and I think during COVID, a lot of folks woke up to the fact that they didn't know what was going on in some of these activities in the schools, and they disagreed with them," she said.

Opponents cited how burdensome obtaining written permission from parents could be, especially from absentee parents, ones who aren't engaged in their child's schooling, or who are difficult to reach.

"I don't know if it's the job of the Legislature to become helicopter parents of the parents," Committee Chair Jay Elkin, R-Taylor, told his panel last week.

Sen. Michelle Axtman, R-Bismarck, on Monday said the bill would not be as simple as supporters portrayed it to be, and that it would negatively impact children with absentee or disengaged parents.

"I think this bill, where we heard no families in support of it, would in turn really hurt our youth who, maybe this (extracurricular) is their only positive outlet throughout the week," she said.

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, called the bill "dangerous."


"This is not 'Leave It to Beaver' households here we're talking about in every case," she said. "For us to do anything that would obstruct young people who are struggling ... from having some connection with a real good experience, which would be collaborating with other students and (advisers and) coaches in some situation that would maybe get them feeling better about being on the right track and being part of that academic community — I cannot imagine why we would put a barrier in that."

Other senators questioned how the bill would affect homeless youth, and what support exists in the public for the bill. Twenty-one people submitted testimony on the bill, all in opposition.

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