Some of those videos recently caught the attention of a state Republican lawmaker, who called them inflammatory and divisive.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Sen. Burt Jones, who is running for lieutenant governor, in a recent letter called on the Georgia Board of Education to investigate whether Johnson’s “statements, implemented policies, and administrative actions” violate code of conduct policies on a county or statewide level.
Jason Downey, chair of the Georgia Board of Education, declined to comment on Jones’ letter, saying it was still under review.
Johnson is a Democrat and the first Black woman to lead Gwinnett’s school board. She was recently elected chair after being nominated by fellow board member Everton Blair, who is running for state school superintendent.
“We have real issues impacting students in our public schools that Sen. Jones could be focusing on,” Blair said in a text message. He said an investigation would be a waste of time.
With about 180,000 students, Gwinnett County Public Schools is the state’s largest district.
“As a multicultural educational leader, I advocate for the representation of all races, ethnicities, religions and cultures,” Johnson said in a statement. “Every child, regardless of race, must know they are seen, heard, respected, valued and celebrated. All children must learn historical facts and understand that their stories and lives matter.”
Since joining the school board last year, Johnson has faced vitriol in meetings and online. In October, she said she contacted law enforcement about disturbing comments, but was told nothing could be done since there were no explicit death threats. She said she then purchased a home security system and a gun.
Penny Poole, president of the Gwinnett NAACP, said calling for an investigation of Johnson was an attempt to diminish her power as an elected official.
“The harassment needs to stop,” she said.
Jones’ comments about Johnson come at a time when state Republican lawmakers have filed four bills that would limit how race is discussed in schools. The Georgia Senate recently passed a bill making Gwinnett school board elections nonpartisan — just over a year after Democrats became the board’s majority.
In his criticism, Jones highlights videos of Johnson. In one, she says white children “will grow up and they will perpetuate the racist systems that my children have to live in.”
The video is part of a series that Johnson posted about the importance of teaching children not to be racist and the challenges people of color face. She posted the series in 2020 after George Floyd died while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Jones also raised concern about a Gwinnett school district document that lists critical race theory as a concept that may be used in research. Critical race theory is a decades-old concept used typically in higher education to examine how racism has shaped society.
School district spokeswoman Sloan Roach said an Advanced Placement language and research teacher wrote the document years ago as part of an audit for the organization that provides AP curriculum. She said critical race theory was not taught in that class.
Superintendent Calvin Watts recently posted a statement that also said critical race theory is not in the district’s curriculum.
“Some state leaders are seeking to legislate the curriculum, rather than allowing the educators and families who live in communities to lead that effort,” the statement said.
Staff writer Ty Tagami contributed to this report.