Georgia Senate approves Kemp’s parent bill of rights for schools

Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State address to a joint session of the Georgia Legislature on Thursday morning, Jan. 13, 2022. He called for a parents' bill of rights, which was approved by the Senate on Tuesday Feb. 22, 2022. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Gov. Brian Kemp delivers the State of the State address to a joint session of the Georgia Legislature on Thursday morning, Jan. 13, 2022. He called for a parents' bill of rights, which was approved by the Senate on Tuesday Feb. 22, 2022. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

Legislation lays out a process to obtain curriculum, other records

The Georgia Senate voted 33-21 Tuesday for legislation that further opens the window into public school classrooms, making it easier for parents to get copies of instructional materials.

Critics call Senate Bill 449 invasive and an unnecessary demand on teachers’ time. But proponents, including Gov. Brian Kemp, say parents have every right to see what their children are being taught in school.

“It is a fundamental right,” Mike Griffin, spokesman for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, testified at a recent hearing. He said the legislation secures a “fair and transparent” window into classrooms.

During the Senate debate before Tuesday’s partisan vote, Democrats said the measure was an administrative burden and a massive surveillance effort that will sow distrust, a climate of censorship and lawsuits.

The bill would allow parents to opt their children out of sex education courses, as well as from audio recordings, photographs and videos. It also enforces parents’ authority to review all instructional materials and school records about their child.

Many of these rights already exist in state and federal code. For instance, in 2016, the Legislature passed a law that requires school boards to make all locally approved instructional materials and other content available for review upon request. The new bill elaborates on the process.

Kemp announced earlier this year that he would back a parents’ bill of rights. Lawmakers he empowered to produce legislation for him introduced identical bills in both the Senate and the House. With Tuesday’s vote, the Senate moved its version by Sen. Clint Dixon, R-Buford, further ahead in the approval process than its counterpart, House Bill 1178.

The legislation provides 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.

Some fear more parent requests to post material online would burden already-harried teachers.

“If you tell a teacher I want you to put up all of your material for the year, I think that ask is a lot more than they realize,” said Alfred “Shivy” Brooks, who teaches economics, personal finance and government at Charles R. Drew High School in Clayton County.

Brooks, who leads Teachers for Good Trouble, a group that organized protests of police killings of Black people, said it also displays a mistrust and disrespect of teaching professionals.

“I believe all these pieces of legislation are going to further push teachers out of the classroom,” he said.

Andrea Young, the executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, testified at a hearing last week that the bill would lead teachers to censor themselves and that it would create disruption as parents protested what they saw.

On Tuesday, Republicans in Georgia’s Senate positioned the bill as a restoration of eroded parental rights.

“I don’t understand how you all can sit here and fight against the rights of parents,” said Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan. “We are simply returning control back to the parents. Giving them the rights that have been lost in certain cases.”

The legislation opens with a sweeping assertion that it is the right of parents “to direct the upbringing and education” of their children.

That line worried University of Georgia law professor Hillel Levin.

“Read in a certain way, this could be understood to give individual parents the right to opt their children out of particular classes in public schools,” he said by email, adding that it could be “a recipe for chaos.”

Beyond that, Levin, who specializes in education law, found little else to be objectionable. “Some of it is already provided for in the Code,” he wrote, “and that which is not provided for is reasonable.”