Georgia Senate drops effort to control race discussions in colleges

Students protest what they call censorship legislation at Liberty Plaza near the capital Friday, February 25, 2022. Senate Bill 377, passed by the Senate Education and Youth Committee on Monday, March 7, 2022, was among the bills they were protesting. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Combined ShapeCaption
Students protest what they call censorship legislation at Liberty Plaza near the capital Friday, February 25, 2022. Senate Bill 377, passed by the Senate Education and Youth Committee on Monday, March 7, 2022, was among the bills they were protesting. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Committee advances bill after also deleting financial penalties for K-12 schools

A Senate version of legislation that seeks to control classroom discussions of race would no longer affect Georgia’s public colleges and universities.

In addition, K-12 school districts would no longer face financial penalties for violating the provisions in Senate Bill 377.

The Senate Education and Youth Committee made those amendments Monday before advancing the bill in a 5-4 vote.

ExploreGeorgia House adopts Kemp-backed classroom bill of rights for parents

The legislation now goes to the Senate Rules Committee before a possible vote on the Senate floor. In its new form, it would apply only to K-12 classrooms and to training for state government employees.

Last week, the Georgia House of Representatives adopted House Bill 1084 with similar classroom prohibitions.

The bills come in the wake of national outrage over the notion that teachers are promoting the college-level academic concept known as critical race theory, which is used to examine the effect of racism on society.

Critics say the legislation would hinder the teaching of history, but the bills’ sponsors say that is not their intent.

ExploreGeorgia House votes to expand subsidies for private school tuition

These two bills, and two others that have not yet had a hearing, identify nine concepts that could not be used in classrooms, including that one race is inherently superior.

The language was drawn substantially from a September 2020 executive order by President Donald Trump that identified what were considered “divisive concepts” and banned them from federal worker training. The order was later reversed by President Joe Biden.

Supporters say the Georgia bills confront a rampant problem in classrooms that they have yet to document to the satisfaction of critics. Opponents call it a cynical strategy to pump up turnout in an election year since the pandemic and racial protests have divided the country.

ExploreMore stories about the Georgia Legislature and education

The legislation clarifies that certain things could still be taught, such as laws that resulted in racial discrimination and segregation.

But Sen. Sonya Halpern, D-Atlanta, said at Monday’s hearing that the clarification conflicts with a prohibition in the legislation. The bill would prohibit teaching something that Halpern, who is Black, said is “factually true” — that the country and state are fundamentally or systemically racist.

The primary author, Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Clarkesville, disagreed that racism is universal.

“Those laws could be taught, however when you put people in a group, when you put the United States as a whole in a group or the state of Georgia in a group and you teach children that their state and their country are racist, that’s something we don’t believe should be taught,” said Hatchett, who is white.