From bathrooms to books, Georgia lawmakers target sexual issues in schools

A new group, Georgians for Responsible Libraries, rallied at the Georgia Capitol on Feb. 1, 2024. They seek to restrict student access to books and other material they think is obscene. (Ty Tagami/

Credit: Ty Tagami

Credit: Ty Tagami

A new group, Georgians for Responsible Libraries, rallied at the Georgia Capitol on Feb. 1, 2024. They seek to restrict student access to books and other material they think is obscene. (Ty Tagami/

Republican lawmakers are proposing a slew of bills that would affect the lives of Georgia’s 1.7 million public school students, as the deadline to move legislation across the Gold Dome approaches this week.

The dominant party in the state House of Representatives has dabbled in the hot-button politics around gender identity while the GOP-led Senate has made that topic a focus.

Senators have targeted school libraries, sex education and bathrooms. A push to bring chaplains into schools is on their agenda, as well.

The pace quickened last week, as Crossover Day — the deadline to move legislation between House and Senate — loomed this Thursday. A Senate bill that would repeal the mandate for sex education was introduced one day and approved by a committee the next — breakneck speed considering that most bills take weeks to get a hearing.

The pace and volume of legislation led to exasperation for a Democratic leader of the Senate during a hearing one evening last week. It was about a bill that seeks more controls over sexually explicit content in school libraries.

“I can’t keep track of all the bills that are delving into this exact same subject,” said Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta.

But Sen. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, said parents across the state are concerned about “a rising onslaught” of new kinds of content in libraries. “This is addressing a real problem,” he said.

To be sure, lawmakers are addressing bipartisan concerns. House Bill 1027, for instance, would require a semester of computer science to graduate from high school.

Many of the bills involving schools are more likely to divide the General Assembly along party lines though.


Senate Bill 154 would expose school librarians to criminal prosecution for the distribution of materials deemed “harmful to minors.” That sort of material has long been defined in law, but librarians have been exempt from prosecution. The bill passed out of committee last week with an amendment that allows an “affirmative defense” when there was “a good faith attempt” to identify and remove the offending books and electronic and other materials from access by minors. Librarians in public libraries and in higher education would still be exempt from prosecution.

Senate Bill 390 would prohibit certain financial and other relationships between the American Library Association and Georgia’s public and school libraries. Many conservatives criticize the organization’s endorsement of books about gender identity and racial bias. The legislation initially threatened Valdosta State University’s ALA-accredited graduate program for librarians, but the authors made amendments to address those concerns before it passed out of a committee last week.

Senate Bill 394 is the legislation that so aggravated Parent, the Atlanta senator. It would establish new standards in school libraries for sexually explicit material. It also passed out of committee last week.


Senate Bill 379 would let school districts deploy chaplains to counsel students. In an attempt to assuage critics, Republicans added a definition of chaplains as clergy trained to serve in a secular environment, provided they are not a “satanist.” But the National School Chaplain Association, the national group promoting the measure, describes itself on its website as a Christian organization, which prompted the ACLU of Georgia to raise concerns about promotion of Christianity in public schools. SB 379 passed out of committee last week after it was amended to allow chaplains to augment rather than replace counselors.


Senate Bill 532 would repeal the standing mandate for sex education. Schools could still offer it, but only after fifth grade, and only if parents opt their children in. Currently, students learn about it unless parents opt them out. The sex education material would also undergo a public vetting before it could be taught. The bill was approved by a Senate panel last week a day after its main sponsor filed it.


Senate Bill 88 would require parental consent for discussions about gender identity involving students 15 and younger in private schools, except for those operated by religious institutions. Public school boards would have to write policies for informing and involving parents before the issue arises in classrooms. The bill passed through committee after a hearing that saw opposition from groups on both sides of the cultural divide.

House Bill 936 would require that students use bathrooms, locker rooms and other group facilities based on their sex, defined as “the physical condition of being male or female based on genetics and physiology.” There could be legal and professional consequences for educators who fail to enforce the provisions. “It just says that if you’re a biological male, you use the male restroom and locker room facilities. If you’re a female, use the female restroom,” chief sponsor Josh Bonner, R-Fayetteville, told a subcommittee last week. Proponents asserted that HB 936 would help reduce sexual abuse in bathrooms. Parents of transgender children countered that it would ostracize and “out” their children, potentially resulting in bullying or suicide.