Two controversial education bills just passed in the Georgia General Assembly are hitting home in Forsyth County

Justine Lookenott

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The Georgia State CapitolImage by Capitol Beat News Service

(Forsyth County, GA) Governor Brian Kemp is expected to sign two controversial education bills into law that passed in the Georgia General Assembly this first week of April.

H.B. 1178, or the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” was passed by the State House of Representatives last month and was passed 31-22 by the State Senate on April 1.

H.B. 1084, or the “Protect Students First Act” was passed by the House of Representatives 99-69 on April 4 before passing the Georgia Senate 32-21 also along party lines. The bill has commonly been referred to as the “Divisive Concepts” bill.

Both bills are part of a nationwide controversy concerning school curricula, including Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI).

What is H.B. 1178 or the “Parents’ Bill of Rights”?

H.B. 1178 gives parents the right to inspect their child’s curriculum and other teaching materials during the first two weeks of every nine-week grading period. Parents can make official requests for certain materials and principals or superintendents will have three business days to provide them. If the principal or superintendent is not able to give the material in that time frame, they must give a written description of the material and a timeline of its delivery to the parent, which will not exceed 30 days.

If a parent is not satisfied with the school’s decision on a request, they can appeal to the school district, and then the state Board of Education.

The bill also allows parents to opt their children out of sex education classes and can choose not to have photos or videos of their children taken unless necessary for public safety.

What is H.B. 1084, or the “Protect Students First Act”?

H.B. 1084 prohibits the teaching of nine concepts regarding race including that an individual's moral character is inherently determined by his or her race, that one race is inherently superior or inferior to any other, and that the United States and Georgia are systemically racist.

Another component of the bill that was added last minute prohibits transgender students born male from competing in most girls’ sports. It was originally intended to be its own bill, which was passed in February by the Senate.

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Governor Brian Kemp at a press conference on May 07, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia.Image by Getty Images

Forsyth County responses

Forsyth County is no stranger to debates over school policies. Over the past few years, Forsyth County parents have crowded into school board meetings to express concern or support over topics like CRT, DEI and the banning of certain books containing “explicit” content. The School Board banned eight books earlier this year.

Several organizations have formed in response to these debates, including the Forsyth Coalition for Education and the Georgia branch of Building Education for Students Together (BEST), which is a project of FreedomWorks.

According to its website, the Forsyth Coalition for Education is a “Non-partisan, grassroots group of parents, students, teachers and education stakeholders who have come together to demand that Forsyth County Schools follow published policies regarding challenged books and materials in order to safeguard the integrity of education in our community.”

Jenny Barber is the mother of two children, one of whom is a current student at West Forsyth High School and the other graduated in 2020. She is also a member of the Forsyth Coalition for Education and believes the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” is unconstitutional and violates all student’s first amendment rights.

“Parents have a right to be informed about what their children are taught,” Barber said. “But it should be left to the educators to decide the curriculum.”

Using a personal example, she expressed her discontentment with the school’s sexual education program, which she describes as being “ancient and unsuccessful.” But while she is not happy with the program, Barber said she makes sure to supplement her children’s education with books and at-home discussions.

“I realized I had a choice,” Barber said. “And if I didn’t like what was being taught, I could put them in a private school instead, or teach them what the conservative county refused to. Parents have the right to inquire and be involved only if it doesn’t infringe on MY [emphasis added] child’s rights to a liberal, public education.”

Barber also highly disagrees with the “Divisive Concepts” bill (Protect Students First Act), saying that teachers and media specialists should be trusted to select reading material and lesson plans because they know what is developmentally appropriate for students.

“Critical thought cannot be brought to bear on a sanitized version of the curriculum,” Barber said. “How can students be prepared for college/work relationships with people of different experiences and backgrounds?”

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The Forsyth County Schools logoImage by Forsyth County Schools

BEST is an organization that describes itself as a “parent-led movement” whose mission is to “protect parents’ rights to be their children’s primary educators and equip them with the tools to give their child and every child in their community the best opportunities possible.”

Laura Zorc, the director of education reform at FreedomWorks and BEST, commended Georgia lawmakers for protecting the rights of parents in education. She sees the passage of the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” as a victory for students and parents in Georgia, which is one of BEST’s focus states.

“Our parent activists from across the state, including Forsyth County, engaged their legislators directly, sending hundreds of messages in support for parents’ rights,” Zorc said. “This bill requires school systems to adopt policies that promote parental involvement and increase transparency in education. We hope to see more states follow Georgia’s lead and empower parents to take control of their children’s education. This bill shows that Georgia lawmakers understand that parents know best.”

These two bills were among many educational measures sent to the governor this session, including H.B. 911 (“Teacher Pay Raise”), S.B. 514 (“Unmask Georgia Students”) and S.B. 226 (“Obscene Materials”).

If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Justine Lookenott at justine.lookenott@newsbreak.com.

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I cover local news in Forsyth County, GA. My debut into the writing world began at the age of 10 when I won an essay contest in Around Acworth Magazine in which I wrote about spending the summer with my pet goat, Eclair. Since graduating from Kennesaw State University, I have been published in several newspapers and magazines in the Atlanta area including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta School Guide, What Now Atlanta, Newcomer Magazine, the Marietta Daily Journal and the Cherokee Tribune.

Forsyth County, GA
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