GOP lawmakers explain efforts to control classroom discussions on race

Rep. Doreen Carter, D-Lithonia, who opposes House Bill 1084, talks with the bill’s sponsor Rep. Will Wade, R-Dawsonville, after a House Education subcommittee hearing on the bill Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Rep. Doreen Carter, D-Lithonia, who opposes House Bill 1084, talks with the bill’s sponsor Rep. Will Wade, R-Dawsonville, after a House Education subcommittee hearing on the bill Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Ben Gray

Georgia Republicans explained this week why they want to control how race is discussed in classrooms, as Democrats pushed for evidence that schools are mishandling the subject.

Rep. Will Wade, R-Dawsonville, said House Bill 1084 was a preventative measure and would provide a formal complaint process for parents to vet concerns about race and politics reaching classrooms.

“This is a proactive piece of legislation,” he said during a hearing Wednesday, in response to questions from a Democrat who didn’t see the problem.

Rep. Doreen Carter, D-Lithonia, had asked Wade why the legislation was needed.

“Even after listening to you, I really still don’t understand what brought us here,” she said. “Normally when there’s a bill, we’re trying to solve or fix something.”

Earlier in the week, Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, told the Senate Education Committee why Senate Bill 377, similar legislation he introduced, was necessary.

As with Wade’s bill, it would ban teaching nine “divisive concepts.” They are defined as broad-brush treatments of ethnic or racial groups, such as the idea that people are responsible for the actions of others of the same color, ethnicity or race.

“If your grandfather was a murderer in the past, should you be taught that because of the color of your skin and because your grandfather committed those crimes that you inherit those?” Hatchett said. “Absolutely not.”

Both bills would also prohibit teaching that the United States is “fundamentally racist.”

Camden Hughes, 18, said after watching the Senate hearing that she grew up in the part of North Georgia that Hatchett represents. She said there is tension there between the white and Hispanic residents who live largely segregated lives.

“I feel like there’s a lot of discomfort in coexisting in the same community and so I believe that is a real issue that he’s trying to address,” said Hughes, who is white and has parents who emigrated from Lebanon. She disagrees with his approach.

“He is choosing to ignore it instead of just tackling it head-on,” she said.

Many who commented during that hearing on Wade’s bill said the legislation is a solution in search of a problem and it could hinder teachers.

“We are dividing our students for issues that don’t exist. We are hiding their history,” said Joshua Anthony, a freshman at Georgia State University.

The subcommittee that heard Wade’s bill passed it to the full Education Committee, which heard it again later Wednesday without a vote. The Senate committee that heard Hatchett’s SB 377 also did not vote. Neither bill will advance until scheduled for a hearing with a vote.


“Divisive concepts” bills

Senate Bill 375: Prohibits divisive concepts in worker training for schools as well as for state and local government agencies.

Senate Bill 377: Would punish schools that teach divisive concepts by withholding up to 10% of their state funding. Colleges and universities could lose an unspecified amount. It also targets worker training for state agencies.

House Bill 1084: Would allow the state education board to punish districts that teach divisive concepts by removing their access to waivers from state education law. All but two of the 180 school districts have them.

House Bill 888: Would dock school districts 20% of their state funding for violations. It doesn’t use the word “divisive” but the wording of the concepts it would prohibit is similar.