A pair of bills nearing Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk aim to spell out parents’ rights over classroom materials and school board meetings. Octavio Jones/Getty Images
A once-controversial bill seeking to protect parents from being removed from local school board meetings sailed through a House committee Wednesday after undergoing major changes, while another so-called parental bill of rights squeaked past a Senate committee with a tie-breaking vote.
Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller’s Senate Bill 588 passed the Senate 32-20 last week along party lines, but the House Education Committee gave it unanimous approval Wednesday afternoon.
The Gainesville Republican, who is running for lieutenant governor, was not present at the meeting.
“I really want to applaud the changes to Sen. Miller’s bill, and it very much honors his intent, which was to encourage greater parental involvement, transparency, and understanding sort of the rules of school board meetings so that they can participate,” said House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones.
The measure was a response to feisty school board meetings across the state during the pandemic in which parents sounded off about face mask and curriculum policies, sometimes passionately. Several parents were removed or arrested.
The bill requires local boards of education to take public comment at their meetings and forbids them from requiring parents to provide notice more than 24 hours in advance of a meeting if they want to have their say. The boards must also permit audio and video recordings of their meetings and publish on their website notice of upcoming meetings and rules of conduct spelling out what actions could result in their being kicked out.
The latest version of the bill addresses concerns aired in previous hearings that boards would be required to readmit parents who repeatedly cause a ruckus or make threats and could only remove them after they cause a disruption.
Under the new language, boards would be responsible for making their own rules, which could bar entry to people with a history of engendering brouhahas. Parents who feel they have been wronged by a board’s decision could take the district to court.
Democrats said the nod to local control was a welcome improvement.
Another bill, House Bill 1178, sponsored by Fayetteville Republican Rep. Josh Bonner, found more narrow approval in the Senate Education and Youth Committee. It passed 6-5 after Committee Chairman Chuck Payne, a Dalton Republican, broke a 5-5 tie.
A mirror image of Gwinnett Republican Sen. Clint Dixon’s Senate Bill 449, it spells out specific rights for parents of public school children, including access to all of their childrens’ classroom materials and records.
Supporters say the measure is needed to prevent cases of schools disregarding parents who want to be more involved.
“There have been numerous cases across the country and a rising body of evidence that has shown that, in some circumstances and some school systems, not necessarily widespread, but it has been a problem and it is on the rise, schools are ignoring parents’ rights to have a say in their children’s education,” said Taylor Hawkins, director of policy for the conservative Frontline Policy Council. “They’re not hearing their complaints. They are rejecting their requests for records access, and these things would be fixed here in Georgia with the provisions in this bill.”
Opponents call it unnecessary, citing existing laws designed to allow parents to access classroom materials, and say it could allow one parent with an agenda to force a teacher to change their entire lesson plan for fear of a lawsuit.
“We don’t have laws in place to undercut the roles of parents, we have laws in place that protect their rights,” said Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, director of policy and outreach for Public Education Matters Georgia.
“Giving parents this fundamental right to direct the education of their children raises the specter of schools forced to contend with a variety of parental demands, curriculum, discipline and teaching methods and the related possibility of numerous lawsuits by disgruntled parents. And it raises the possibility that some parents, through individual demands, will in effect threaten what is offered to all students, which infringes upon students rights to a robust and sound education offered by the professionals in the classroom.”
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