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North Dakota Legislature Fails to Override Governor Veto of Pronouns in School Bill

'The teaching profession is challenging enough without the heavy hand of state government forcing teachers to take on the role of pronoun police,' said Governor Doug Burgum

Lawmakers in North Dakota failed to override Governor Doug Burgum’s veto of a bill barring teachers from referring to their students by their preferred pronouns.

While the state Senate did vote to override the veto on April 19, the House did not secure the two-thirds majority needed.

Accordingly, teachers in public schools can use the preferred gender pronouns of students with or without parental consent. The bill – Senate Bill 2231 – would have required staff members and teachers to receive permission from both a school administrator and students’ parents. 

“The teaching profession is challenging enough without the heavy hand of state government forcing teachers to take on the role of pronoun police,” Burgum said in a letter to the state Senate, per CBS News. “Parents, teachers and administrators using compassion, empathy and common sense can address individual and infrequent situations that may arise.”

Burgum said he would sign SB 2231 if it were sent back to him with only its first provision –  which prohibits government agencies from requiring employees to use their co-workers’ preferred pronouns.

The House previously passed the bill in March following a 60-32 vote. Conservative lawmakers argued the bill created a better learning environment and kept educators from being in the middle of the controversial debate over transgenderism.

“Section 2 infringes on local control by unnecessarily injecting the state into rare instances most appropriately handled at the parent, teacher and school district level. This section removes discretion from school boards, schools and teachers in determining how to accommodate the needs of all students in public schools,” Burgum wrote, according to The Hill

“Five years ago, this whole pronoun thing wasn’t a thing,” Rep. SuAnn Olson, a Republican, said in the debate ahead of the vote, per AP News. “It’s just a common-sense bill that deserves a green vote.”

Opponents of the bill argued observing an individual’s pronoun preference was a necessary step to protect LGBTQ youth. 

“It’s another week of a legislative session, and we have another bill that’s telling certain people that they have value or don’t have value in our state,” argued Rep. Josh Boschee, a Democrat. 

The American Civil Liberties of North Dakota denounced the bill.

No one is harmed by allowing teachers, administrators and counselors to create a safe and welcoming educational environment for students in our public schools,” the ACLU North Dakota said in a statement. “Additionally, the decision to adopt policies that acknowledge the gender identity of students should be made by local entities – not dictated by our state legislators.”

Burgum, a Republican, had not said if he would support SB 2231 before it arrived on his desk. In 2021, Burgum vetoed a bill that required student-athletes in public elementary and secondary schools to compete on teams that matched their gender at birth. The governor then signed the sports teams requirement into law on April 11, about a week before vetoing the pronoun bill. 

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