ATLANTA – Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed a series of education bills Thursday, completing work on an agenda legislative Democrats, civil rights groups and educators have criticized as election-year politics.
The package includes a Parents’ Bill of Rights setting up a process for parents to provide input into what their children are taught and legislation banning the teaching of certain “divisive” concepts surrounding racism in Georgia schools. The latter bill also includes a provision that could lead to prohibiting transgender students born male from participating in girls’ sports.
“Protecting the teaching of freedom, liberty, opportunity and the American Dream in the classroom should not be controversial,” Kemp said during a signing ceremony at the Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center in Cumming.
“Making sure parents have the ultimate say in their child’s education should not be controversial. [For] every girl in this state to have the opportunity to succeed in the sport they love … should not be controversial.”
But Terrence Wilson, regional policy and community engagement director for the Texas-based nonprofit Intercultural Development Research Association, said Kemp’s education agenda is not about protecting parents’ rights.
“This effort is meant to give a small but vocal group of parents the ability to censor what students learn about racism, bigotry and oppression,” Wilson said during a news conference held shortly after the bill signing ceremony.
“Georgia has a complex history with race and racism,” added Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. “Students and teachers should be free to expand on that history without interference from politicians.”
Under House Bill 1084, Georgia teachers may not teach about history in a way that might make any student feel guilty or that they are superior or inferior to anyone else because of their race. It also prohibits teaching that the United States has been a systemically racist country.
A second component in the bill is aimed at transgender student athletes. After a standalone measure banning transgender students born male from participating in girls’ sports failed to get through the General Assembly, Republican legislative leaders inserted into House Bill 1084 a provision giving the Georgia High School Association the authority to review the issue and come up with a policy.
As the bill went through the legislature, supporters argued transgender students born male have built-in advantages in speed and strength that put girls born female at a competitive disadvantage. Most often cited was the case of Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who won an NCAA championship in a women’s event.
The Parents’ Bill of Rights gives 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 will have three working days to provide it. Parents not satisfied with a local school’s decision on a request can appeal to the school district and, beyond that, to the state.
Kemp also signed bills putting in place a process for removing obscene materials from school libraries, raising the cap on a state tax credit program that funds private-school scholarships to $120 million a year, and allowing retired teachers to return to classrooms in high-need areas.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.