Ga. Senate advances bill that aims to let parents second-guess school lessons

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by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder

February 22, 2022

A bill supported by Gov. Brian Kemp to give parents more say on what happens in their children’s classrooms passed the state Senate Tuesday on a party line vote.

The bill, which supporters call the Parents’ Bill of Rights, is part of a nationwide conservative push against what some parents see as “woke” lessons. It allows parents to review classroom materials at the beginning of each nine-week grading period, to access all documents related to their child, to opt their kids out of sex education and to decline to have their child photographed or recorded except for security purposes.

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“The governor and I believe parents and school systems need to work together to step in,” said Sen. Clint Dixon, the Buford Republican who sponsored the bill. “It’s time to reaffirm the rights of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their own children, and have the support of local school districts in doing so.”

Democrats like Atlanta Sen. Elena Parent called the bill a solution in search of a problem.

“It is such a shame that we are willing to get so deep into manufactured crises and partisan politics in going after teachers,” she said.

With a few recent exceptions, Georgia has not fully funded the state’s own spending formula for local schools for years, Parent said, and adding more paperwork that gives one angry parent the ability to scuttle an entire lesson plan may only drive more teachers out of the profession.

“We should be working together to support teachers, who have been through so much in the past two years, support teachers, who, despite the low pay and the opprobrium cast upon them and ginned up, frankly, by the members of this body, for partisan political reasons, are still willing to be teachers,” Parent said. “I’m not really surprised when faced by bills like this, that we lose so many teachers within the first five years, that we have a teacher shortage that’s headed, frankly, toward a major crisis.”

Many of the bill’s protections already exist in state law, Democrats argued. The bill allows parents to provide written notice that their child may not be photographed or recorded, but a 2010 state law forbids Georgians from photographing a minor without their parents’ permission. It requires school boards to create a procedure to withdraw students from sex education, even though state law already gives parents that right. And while the main selling point is to allow parents to review instructional materials, schools have been required to do that since 2017.

Republicans say the bill standardizes a process that can vary widely from district to district and ensures parents get the information they are entitled to.

“I don’t understand how y’all can sit here and fight against the rights of parents,” said Republican state Sen. Matt Brass of Newnan. “We talk about local control. There’s more nothing more local than the individual. There’s nothing more local than the love between a mother and child, a father and a child, that is as local as it gets.”

“I don’t know how you can go back to your districts and look parents in the face and say I’m against you,” he added. “How can you do that? Shame on you.”

It’s also a question of financial fairness, said Dahlonega Republican Sen. Steve Gooch.

“Isn’t it true that if we’re going to spend $14, $15, $16 billion of our state taxpayers’ money for public education, should the parents not have a right to question where that money is being spent and also what their children are being exposed to in the classroom?”

“They already have that right, and that’s why we have democratically elected school boards,” Parent said. “This legislation does nothing to advance any worthwhile conversation along those lines.”

Parents who have a problem with what their children are learning can ask for a meeting with the teacher, join the PTA, go to school board meetings or even run for the school board, Parent said. They are also free to pull them out of school and teach them at home or send them to private school, she added.

That’s not realistic for most parents, said Tyrone Republican Sen. Marty Harbin.

“The people who we need to be with, the people we need to stand for, is the people who can’t afford the private education or cannot educate at home, they still should have a voice in the education of their children,” he said.

Harbin said he has been hearing from parents who have been disturbed by what they have seen from their children’s screens since the pandemic brought some classes into dining rooms and bedrooms, and the bill will ensure they are able to weigh in on what their children are taught.

Democratic Sen. Harold Jones, an Augusta Democrat, argued that the language in the bill is too vague. He said the provision allowing parents to prevent their children from being photographed or recorded could unintentionally cause major problems for student athletics.

“You’ve got a parent who will look at this and say ‘Hey, all those high school games on Georgia Public Broadcasting, all those games that come on, my son’s on there, and now I have an inalienable right to say I don’t want him or her shown, and you give me no exemptions? Oh, we can make a deal, but it’s going to cost you,’” he said.

The bill now heads to the House. Other GOP-led education bills with Kemp’s support are also making their way through the Legislature, including bills to remove so-called “obscene materials” from school libraries, ban teachers from endorsing “divisive concepts” and prevent transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

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