The Georgia House of Representatives adopted a bill Friday that would aim to make it easier for parents to see what goes on in classrooms, backing a push by Gov. Brian Kemp for what he called a parental bill of rights.
The 98-68 vote for House Bill 1178 broke along party lines except for one Democrat who sided with Republicans. The legislation mirrors Senate Bill 449, also supported by Kemp, which passed the Senate last week.
Proponents say parents have the right to see what their children are being taught. Opponents call it an invasive and unnecessary demand on teachers’ time.
The legislation comes after parents across the country grew restless with mask mandates and virtual schooling, with parents of younger students witnessing the daily details of classrooms online. Some liked what they saw and some didn’t.
The chief author, Rep. Josh Bonner, R-Fayetteville, said the legislation would guarantee parental access to curriculum and promote “transparency” in the classroom.
Democrats cast it as an election-year ploy to engage Republican voters, in a move that they said casts teachers as the adversary.
“All this does is set up a fight and logistical nightmares for our teachers to deal with,” said Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Atlanta. Parents will inevitably believe teachers have withheld information, she said, inviting mistrust. “This is going to keep the lawyers pretty busy trying to figure out what was and wasn’t produced.”
The bill also would allow parents to opt their children out of sex education courses. And it would give parents authority over whether their children can appear in many audio recordings, photographs and videos (there is an exception for security recordings).
It also would enforce parents’ authority to review certain curriculum for — and school records about — their child.
Many of these rights already exist in state and federal code. For instance, parents can already pull their kids out of sex education. And the law already requires school boards to make all locally approved instructional materials available for review upon request. The new bill would elaborate on the process.
The legislation would provide a deadline of three to 30 days for schools to abide by parent requests, and an appeals process when schools refuse. Parents could appeal to the local school board and then to the State Board of Education.
“This centralizes and streamlines the process for a parent to get information while providing an alternative to the open records route, which costs parents money,” said Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville. He chairs the GOP-led House Education Committee, which had recommended passage.
Supplemental materials that teachers might bring to the classroom, such as news articles not vetted by the school board, would not be covered. Some found that to be disappointing.
“That’s the crux of our problem,” said Melissa Jackson, state president of No Left Turn in Education, which supports the legislation but hoped for something stronger. “All the issues that have been reported through the parents throughout the last, well, since the pandemic, have all centered on rogue teachers bringing in supplemental resources.”
She called that a “big hole” in the legislation.
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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com