Georgia House passes parental bill of rights, ban on some race teaching
Parts of Georgia Republicans’ agenda to increase parental oversight of schools and regulate what they teach on racial issues moved closer to law Friday with the passage of two bills in the state House.
Representatives voted 92-63 to pass House Bill 1084, which bans the teaching of what Republicans label as “divisive concepts” on racial matters and voted 98-68 to pass House Bill 1178, which puts into one law a number of parental rights that already exist. Both measure go to the Senate for more debate.
Both bills are an outgrowth of conservative ferment over how schools teach about race, sexual orientation and other subjects. Other bills pending in Georgia would allow parents to ask for “inappropriate” materials to be removed, ban the teaching of “divisive concepts” on race and prohibit transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams.
Democrats say the bills are election season fodder for Republican primary voters, but also fear they aim to lock in a conservative, white, heterosexual view of a society that is less of any of those things than it used to be.
Higher education was not excluded from scrutiny, with Republicans passing long-debated House Bill 1, which would prohibit public universities and colleges from limiting student speech or confining it to a few limited areas.
House Bill 1084 bans teaching a list of items originally listed in a now-repealed 2020 executive order by former President Donald Trump.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 Senate 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.
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.
“I don’t believe that we need to teach young students that an individual’s moral character is based on their race, or that the United States is fundamentally racist, or that an individual bears responsibility for the past actions of others of the same race,” said Rep. Will Wade, a Dawsonville Republican. “It runs counter to the core believe that all human beings are created equal, regardless of race, or their ethnicity, or their sex.”
Democrats, though said the bill is likely to chill honest discussion about Georgia’s hard history of racial discrimination and forcible removal of Native Americans, especially because it would allow a parent to challenge a lesson on the grounds that the teacher had improperly made a student “feel anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of his or her race.”
“When you’re uncomfortable, you start to grow,” said Rep. Erica Thomas, an Austell Democrat. “And how can we talk about our future if we can’t teach kids about our past? It’s uncomfortable. It’s divisive. It’s critical. But it’s American history.”
House Bill 1178 says parents have the right to review all classroom materials, the right to access all records relating to their child, the right to opt their child out of all sex education, and the right to prevent the creation of photos, videos and voice recordings of their children except for security purposes. Many of the rights already exist.
The law would require local school boards to develop procedures for parents to object to material used in the classroom.
“This bill is absolutely necessary,” said House Education Committee Chairman Matt Dubnik, a Gainesville Republican. “This is not controversial. This is about parents’ access to transparency. As legislators, I don’t understand how we could vote against parents’ rights.”
Democrats, though, say the bill could worsen an antagonistic relationship between parents and teachers and deluge schools with harassing requests.
“And now we want to burden our teachers,” said Rep. Betsy Holland, an Atlanta Democrat. “We say ‘We don’t trust you.’ We need to know everything that you’re going to be discussing with out children; we need to know in advance, and heaven forbid you deviate from that.”
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