Cobb updates rules to comply with state’s new divisive concept laws

The Cobb County School Board including member Charisse Davis, from left, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and chair David Chastain at the monthly meeting Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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The Cobb County School Board including member Charisse Davis, from left, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and chair David Chastain at the monthly meeting Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The best way for Cobb County teachers to avoid divisive concepts in the classroom is to stick to district-approved resources, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale said at a meeting last week.

The district is changing some of its administrative rules to comply with hotly-debated new state laws prohibiting the teaching of divisive concepts and content harmful to minors.

School board members Charisse Davis and Leroy Tre’ Hutchins wanted to know how teachers could do their jobs while complying with the new laws.

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“There is no danger — zero whatsoever,” if teachers use district-approved resources, Ragsdale said.

“When you start getting outside of those standards is when you start getting into quicksand, and it is deep and quick,” he said.

The district updated some administrative rules with language straight from the new laws. They now say employees should refrain from espousing personal political beliefs or “attempting to persuade or indoctrinate” anyone. Employees should not infringe on parents’ rights to direct the upbringing and moral or religious training of their children.

State law, and now the district rule, prohibits a list of nine “divisive concepts” relating to racism. They restrict teaching that the U.S. is fundamentally racist or that an individual is responsible for past actions of other individuals of the same race.

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They also prohibit “content harmful to minors,” which is defined as relating to prurient sexual content.

The rules now emphasize that teaching of political or religious topics should be “balanced” — a point of contention during the legislative session.

“Teachers shouldn’t feel like they have to have both sides to something like the Holocaust,” Davis said, and Ragsdale agreed. “That is going to have to be said and explained, and I hate that but that’s where we are.”

The district will also be updating its process in the coming months for individuals to complain about potential content violations, per the new laws.