ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia lawmakers sent a bill to increase parental oversight of schools to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature on Friday, while a bill regulating what schools can teach on racial issues neared final passage.
The measures are key parts of a conservative agenda on schools. The Republican Kemp has already signed a bill letting parents opt their children out of school mask mandates for five years, and a bill is on his desk that would force public schools to respond to challenges of materials parents consider obscene. Still alive, but facing more challenges is a bill that would prohibit transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams.
House Bill 1084, which bans the teaching of "divisive concepts" on race in Georgia public schools, went back to the House for representatives to agree to changes after passing the Senate 32-21 on Friday. The measure, based on a now-repealed executive order from President Donald Trump, has attracted opposition throughout the session from teacher groups and liberal groups. But Republicans say it's absolutely necessary to ban 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.
"CRT is wrong, it's destructive and it views American history through a racial lens," said Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican running for lieutenant governor. "It's a filter that focuses on victimhood, not triumph, and we have triumphed in this country. It is driven by identity politics; it promotes racial identity over American identity, and is a recipe for chaos and division. We don't defeat racism with racism."
Banned "divisive concepts" would include claims that the U.S. 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.
School districts would have to respond to complaints, and people who don't like the outcome could appeal to the state Board of Education. If the board finds the school district in the wrong, it could suspend some or all of its waivers from state regulation.
The measure also bans training of school employees by anyone who advocates for the banned divisive concepts.
Despite assurances from sponsors that the measure won't inhibit the ability to teach a full picture of American history, a number of teachers have voiced opposition. Amelia Copp, an intervention teacher at a Decatur elementary school, said she believes the bill will chill teachers' speech in the classroom, as well as Copp's ability to lead efforts to eradicate racism in schools. She said she fears conservative parents will be looking for opportunities to rat out teachers, and presented a petition to lawmakers opposing the measure earlier this year.
Copp said she was incensed by "the audacity that they think they can tell us what to teach, that they can censor us in the classroom."
But she said that she's a rule follower, and so are her coworkers. "Teachers are going to be afraid to teach anything regarding race and racism."
Kemp has backed House Bill 1178, which he bills as a parent's bills of rights. The measure passed the Senate 31-22 on Friday. It 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.
"Parents have a right to be actively involved in their child's learning experience," Kemp tweeted after its passage. "This bill will ensure transparency in education by promoting a partnership between parents and educators."
Opponents, though, warned the bill could worsen the relationship between parents and teachers and deluge schools with harassing requests.