State lawmakers take aim at ‘obscene’ public school books and lessons on race

By: and - February 10, 2022 1:00 am

Georgia lawmakers are acting on Republican-sponsored bills giving parents more input into how their children are taught about race while beefing up the complaint process if they find school materials to be offensive. Getty Images

A Georgia Republican lawmaker who authored a bill that forbids K-12 schools from teaching concepts about race that some people consider divisive defended his measure Wednesday against claims that it is intended to whitewash history and intimidate educators.

Two hearings were held on Rep. Will Wade’s House Bill 1084, which he says will not allow students to be taught about race through a lens that makes them feel guilty or pits one student against another because of their ethnicity. The bill outlines a process in which parents can take an appeal as high as the state school board if they feel their child is being taught lessons on race that are inappropriate.

The laundry list of divisive concepts that would be prohibited includes race stereotyping or scapegoating, making individuals feel uncomfortable or ashamed based on their race and or implying any group is inherently superior or inferior based on its race.

In the bill, schools are required to launch an investigation within three days after a parent lodges a complaint, and if the parent isn’t satisfied with the result, the parent can appeal to the local and state school boards.

“The Protect Students First Act will ensure that each and every student in Georgia is treated with dignity and respect, and their education is provided for them free from any divisive ideology,” Wade said.

“This legislation also recognizes that students in Georgia classrooms must be taught all our history from the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Wade said.

A number of similar bills have been introduced in Georgia and across the country by Republicans who say they believe parents should have greater control over school curriculum. It comes after months of controversy over claims that white students will be unjustly indoctrinated by so-called critical race theory and lessons about the history of systemic racism in America.

State Rep. Will Wade

Wade’s measure advanced through the Republican-controlled House education subcommittee at the two-hour public hearing. It is now before the full Education Committee following another hour-long hearing.

Rep. Doreen Carter, a Democrat from Lithonia, questioned the need for the legislation since racial history controversies aren’t a common occurrence and local school systems have already established procedures for parents to file complaints.

“I really still do not understand what brought us here?” Carter said. “Normally, when there is a bill we’re trying to solve or fix something?”

The bill was criticized by several people as an attempt to prevent discussions about America’s sordid history of discrimination against Black people and other minorities. At the same time, conservative religious groups commended the bill for spelling out that no student is discriminated against because of factors beyond their control.

As a parent of a Fulton County student, Marla Cureton said she is worried about how the proposed law could censor and intimidate educators, administrators, parents, and students.

“The bill sponsors believe that our skilled curriculum developers and our educational content partners need to be censored by politicians who fear teaching our students about truthful history,” she said.

Wade said the bill protects the First Amendment rights of educators.

“It’s not going to prevent a teacher from talking about critical race theory being in the news, or talk about about what happened in the holocaust,” he said. “There is nothing in this that is going to put them at risk because they are discussing when it is academically appropriate.”

Another so-called parental bill of rights fell short of votes it needed to pass a Senate committee Wednesday.

Buford Republican Sen. Clint Dixon said his Senate Bill 449 enumerates a list of rights for Georgia parents, including the right to review instructional materials used in the classroom, access all records pertaining to the child and to consent in writing before a photograph, video or voice recording of the child is taken.

That last one raised concerns for Angela Palm, director of policy and legislative services for the Georgia School Boards Association.

It could unintentionally cause problems for schools that use cameras as part of their security system on buses or outside of school buildings, or it could penalize student photographers with the yearbook club or school newspaper, she said.

Dixon said he is amenable to making changes to address those concerns, and the bill, which has the support of Gov. Brian Kemp, will likely return for future consideration.

Obscenity bill moves forward

A bill by Dallas Republican Sen. Jason Anavitarte also aiming to give parents more recourse to protest their child’s public school lessons passed through two House committee hearings Wednesday and is poised for a full House vote.

Georgia state Sen. Jason Anavitarte

The bill sets up a process for parents or guardians to petition their childrens’ principal if they believe school-provided materials are objectionable. Parents who are unsatisfied with the principal’s decision can appeal to the local board of education.

Supporters of the provision, like Tyler Hawkins, director of advocacy for conservative lobbying group Frontline Policy Action, say the bill would provide children better protection than the current system, which leaves decisions up to local officials. Hawkins said he hears from parents who say their complaints about school materials often don’t get a response.

“Their concerns have not been addressed, they’ve gone six months, 12 months, 18 months, without any resolution of this issue,” he said. “And the problem with that, especially in this circumstance, when we’re dealing with this issue, is that those materials still being available means we are we are presenting challenges because other students are viewing those materials, other students are experiencing the trauma of their innocence being robbed, in a sense, because of what this material is doing, as it continues to be available.”

Opponents characterized the measure as political theater and potentially harmful to students. They said books written from the point of view of LGBT characters or describing the hardships faced by minority characters are more likely to be banned.

Desirrae Jones, policy associate at the New Georgia Project, said trained school librarians curate appropriate materials, and parents are already free to monitor what their children read.

“Books like ‘50 Shades of Grey’ are not available in our K-12 schools anywhere in Georgia,” she said. “There are young adult novels and things that have some mature content, but this is not obscene content. These are things that we’re exposing our children to so that then when they go out into the world, they’re not shocked by the fact that there are people who do drugs, there are people who have sex, these are not foreign concepts for Georgia students.”

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.

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