Georgia House panel passes bill banning 'divisive concepts' in public schools

educators push back on bill

The Georgia House Education Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022, voted 13-7 for House Bill 1084, which bans teaching a list of items originally listed in a now-repealed 2020 executive order by former President Donald Trump. (Photo via Pixabay)

A Georgia House committee on Wednesday passed a bill banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” in the state’s public schools as conservatives continue to say the state needs to block teachers from fomenting racial division.

The House Education Committee voted 13-7 for House Bill 1084, which bans teaching a list of items originally listed in a now-repealed 2020 executive order by former President Donald Trump. It now moves to the full House for more debate. Republicans are reacting against critical race theory, a term stretched from its original meaning as an examination of how societal structures perpetuate white dominance to a broader indictment of diversity initiatives and teaching about race.

The committee also voted 13-6 to pass House Bill 1178, its version of a parent bill of rights backed by Gov. Brian Kemp, after the full Senate passed the same bill Tuesday.

Banned “divisive concepts” would include claims that the United States is “fundamentally or systematically racist,” that any people are “inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” and that no one “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of his or her race.” Bills using identical language have been proposed in dozens of states, backed by the Center for Renewing America, a think tank led by former Trump administration officials.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Will Wade of Dawsonville, said the goal is for teachers to present a unifying version of American history and government.

“This is to ensure that we become the United States of America and we are united in addressing these issues,” Wade said.

Amendments that Wade made to the bill did little to ease the concerns of opponents. Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat, said she feared a “chilling effect” and said Wade’s language saying teachers can’t espouse “personal political beliefs” in the classroom would crimp teachers in various ways.

“Is an educator going to get in trouble for saying slavery is wrong?” Nguyen asked. “That’s inserting a personal belief.”

Conservative concern over how schools handle race, sexual orientation and other subjects has prompted a raft of legislation in Georgia and other states. Other bills pending in Georgia would allow parents to ask for “inappropriate” materials to be removed from schools and prohibit transgender girls from playing on female sports teams. There’s also a push to give parents more power to control their children’s education and be able to scrutinize what’s being taught.

Kemp’s bill of rights in large part duplicates provisions that are already law, although Rep. Josh Bonner, the Fayetteville Republican sponsoring the measure in the House, said it was worthwhile to pull all the rights together in one place.

The measure says parents have the right to review key classroom materials, which has been state law since 2017, and says parents have the right to withdraw their students from sex education, which has been law since before 2006. It also says parents will have a right to access all the records relating to their child, which is federal law.

“Parents, whether it’s real or perceived, just don’t feel like they have some of the rights enumerated in this bill,” Bonner said.

The bill’s passage out of committee followed testimony from some parents and conservative activists that the bill didn’t go far enough. They particularly wanted the law to include access to any supplemental material that teachers might use, not just the main items.

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