Georgia House Republicans put their stamp of approval Friday to much of GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s education agenda.
Voting along party lines, the Republican majority passed bills guaranteeing parents’ involvement in their children’s education, protecting free-speech rights on Georgia’s public university campuses and prohibiting the teaching of “divisive concepts” in the state’s public schools.
The Parents’ Bill of Rights would give parents the right to review curriculum and other instructional material during the first two weeks of every nine-week grading period.
Principals or superintendents who receive a request for information from a parent would have three working days to provide it. Parents not satisfied with a local school’s decision on a request could appeal to the school district and, beyond that, to the state.
“This bill is not meant to be punitive in any way,” Rep. Josh Bonner, R-Fayetteville, one of Kemp’s floors leaders in the House, told his legislative colleagues Friday. “This will make it easier for [school] districts and parents to understand their roles.”
But Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Atlanta, argued the bill would put the relationship between parents and teachers at risk by subjecting teachers to cumbersome open-records requests.
“All this does is set up a fight and logistical nightmares for teachers,” she said.
After passing that bill 98-68, the House moved on to legislation clarifying that First Amendment free-speech rights exist at all locations on college campuses, doing away with the concept of “free-speech zones” that limit free expression to specific locations.
Supporters cited instances where representatives of conservative organizations have been denied the right to address campus rallies by liberal college administrators.
“Free expression of thought is not faring so well on college campuses these days,” said Rep. Ginny Ehrhart, R-Marietta.
Opponents took particular exception to a provision in the bill that allows not just students and faculty to exercise their free-speech rights but their “invited guests.”
Rep. David Dreyer, D-Atlanta, said such a loose policy could open college campuses to anti-Semitism, other forms of hate speech, and even violence.
“It will increase harassment and hate,” he said.
After House members passed that bill 93-62, the chamber took up the “divisive concepts” bill. Among other things, the measure would ban Georgia schools from teaching that any race is inherently superior or inferior to any other, or that the United States is a systemically racist country.
“This is happening rarely in Georgia, but it is happening,” said Rep. Will Wade, R-Dawsonville, the bill’s chief sponsor. “I believe we must do something proactive to prevent it.”
Before passing the bill 92-63, supporters said teaching such racist concepts could make students uncomfortable and lead to feelings of guilt.
But the bill’s opponents said students should feel uncomfortable about portions of U.S. history, including slavery and the taking of Native American lands.
“When you’re uncomfortable, you start to grow,” said Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell. “It is uncomfortable. But it is American history.”
Democrats complained all three bills are part of a politically motivated effort by the governor and Republican legislative leaders to pass legislation that will appeal to GOP voters in a pivotal election year.
The bills now head to the Senate, which has already passed its own version of the Parents’ Bill of Rights. However, the Senate’s divisive concepts bill is still before the Senate Education Committee.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.