Atlanta school board drafts divisive concepts rules after opposing law

The Atlanta school board on Monday gave preliminary approval to new rules that detail how the district will respond if parents complain about how race and other divisive concepts are taught.

A Georgia law, which went into effect July 1, limits how teachers talk about certain issues. It bars teachers from asserting that the United States is fundamentally racist, that one race is superior to another or that individuals should feel guilty because of their race.

House Bill 1084, backed by Republicans and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, also requires school systems to establish a complaint resolution process that explains what they will do if a parents alleges a school is mishandling such concepts.

The Atlanta Board of Education has been critical of such legislation. In February, the school board passed a resolution saying such moves “stifle classroom instruction and are solutions in search of a problem.”

ExploreAtlanta school board: Georgia lawmakers’ bills on race stifle teachers

But board member Cynthia Briscoe Brown, who leads the policy committee, said the new law requires Atlanta Public Schools to approve a policy. Refusing to do so “is not an option which adequately protects the district from potential negative consequences,” she said during Monday’s meeting.

Briscoe Brown said the proposed language satisfies the district’s legal obligation while also making it “very clear that we expect our students and teachers to grapple with difficult issues and that we will support and protect our teachers in doing so.”

Board member Jason Esteves said it’s important that those conversations continue.

“I appreciate the fact that we’re a school system that values the ability for our students and our teachers to talk about issues that they’ll be facing, that our students will be facing in the real world when they graduate from Atlanta Public Schools, and that they are already facing in their communities today,” he said, during the meeting.

Explore3 Atlanta Public Schools administrators on leave amid internal review

The proposed APS policy, which will return to the board for final approval next month, includes a section about the importance of teaching about issues “which may be considered controversial or divisive.” It also spells out a complaint review process that closely mirrors the model policy released months ago by the state Board of Education to guide districts.

Under the APS rules, a principal or other designee would have five school days to review a written complaint “and take reasonable steps to investigate the allegations.” The policy details the timeline for schools to decide if a violation occurred and, if so, what remedies will be taken. The rules also outline the appeals process.

ExploreTeachers wary as schools brace for new laws about race, obscenity

Briscoe Brown said the final version of the APS policy also could include a section spelling out what due process will be provided to teachers who are the subjects of complaints.

Other school boards, including those in DeKalb and Fulton counties, already approved their policies in response to the new law.