FoCo Supporters, opponents react to Gov. Kemp’s signing of controversial education bills

Justine Lookenott

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Gov. Brian Kemp signs into law a series of hotly debated education bills on April 28(Image by Justine Lookenott)

(Forsyth County, GA) In the early morning of April 28, Governor Brian Kemp signed into law a series of hotly debated education bills at the Forsyth County Arts and Learning Center.

The signing comes months after the Forsyth County Board of Education banned eight books from school libraries in response to several heated Board meetings with parents who said the books, as well as some teaching materials, contained inappropriate content.

Josh Bonner, who is the representative for the 72nd District, gave a quick rundown of the bills after some opening statements from BOE Chairman Wes McCall.

“This legislation reinforces the role of parents as the primary educators of your children,” Bonner said. “[It] protects our students from divisive concepts and obscene materials, provides greater educational freedom, ensures fairness on the athletic fields, increases student financial literacy and encourages seasoned educators to step back into the classroom.”

Outside, a handful of members of the Forsyth County Georgia Democrats, including the two Democratic candidates running for positions on the School Board, held signs in protest of the bills. After the event, they held a press conference at the nearby Dobbs Creek Recreation Center.

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

What are the bills?

Here are the bills that were signed into law today:

  • H.B. 1178, or the “Parents’ Bill of Rights”
  • H.B. 1084, which “prevents divisive concepts and ideologies from invading the classroom”
  • S.B. 226, which “removes obscene materials from school libraries”
  • S.B. 588, which “ensures school board meetings are transparent”
  • H.B. 517, which “fulfills a campaign promise to double the cap on student scholarship organization donations, including the Greater Opportunities for Access to Learning (GOAL) scholarships”
  • S.B. 220, which “creates a commission on Civics Education to explore ways in which we can better serve students and ensure financial literacy is taught in schools”
  • H.B. 385, which “allows retired teachers to return to the classroom full-time in high-need areas”

While some of the bills haven’t received much debate, such as teaching financial literacy and allowing retired teachers to relieve staffing shortages in schools, others have been in the limelight for months. The most notable ones are H.B. 1178, or the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and H.B. 1084, or the “Divisive Concepts Bill.”

The “Parents’ Bill of Rights” 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 while the “Divisive Concepts Bill” prohibits the teaching of nine concepts regarding race. These include teaching 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. It also bans transgender students born male from competing in most girls’ sports.

Following the nationwide trend on the topic, many educational leaders and parents have clashed in their opinions on the bills, with both sides accusing the other of pushing a political agenda.

Forsyth County opponents

For the Forsyth County Georgia Democrats, concerns over the bills range from their belief that teachers will be afraid of losing their jobs for saying something parents don’t agree with to censorship in school libraries.

During the press conference at the recreation center, several Democratic candidates and party members gave their thoughts on the changes.

Elaine Padgett, the BOE Democratic candidate for District 5, said the bills stem from Kemp’s motive to gain political support.

“[From] the moves to censor what's taught in classrooms to the efforts to make it easier to ban books and to attack parent-teacher partnerships, it's clear that for Kemp this is about politics and inserting a partisan agenda into our classrooms,” Padgett said.

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Elaine Padgett, the BOE Democratic candidate for District 5, gives her thoughts on the education bills on April 28(Image by Justine Lookenott)

Amanda Lee, who is the president-elect of the Georgia Library Media Association and a school librarian for the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, also highlighted censorship fears, saying that the bills will create a chilling effect around the state and limit the exchange of free ideas.

“We’re going to see people censor themselves before they get in trouble because they're concerned that a parent is going to report them,” Lee said. “They’re that concerned about their job, it's just going to make education feel more hostile.”

The group often describes those who support the bills as a “vocal minority,” but the Democratic candidate for BOE District 1, Janna Kregoski, said it’s hard to tell where many of the teachers stand on the issue because many are afraid to express their opinions over fears of losing their job.

“What we've actually had to [do], is we've had a lot of teachers, ..who were very supportive against banning books, against this idea of banning divisive concepts,” Kregoski said. “What we've had to do is, they will write statements and we've recruited students to read those statements at board meetings so that the teachers can feel heard without fearing for their jobs.”

Wayne White, who is a Democratic U.S. House of Representatives candidate for Georgia’s sixth congressional district, said the whole issue is a distraction from more important talking points regarding education.

“The concept is part of a larger picture,” White said. “Using scare tactics to score political points, which damages people, it warps the issues and it distracts from the real issues..funding and growth and curriculum and preparation for college.”

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Janna Kregoski, the BOE Democratic candidate for District 1, gives her thoughts on the education bills on April 28(Image by Justine Lookenott)

Forsyth County supporters

Cindy Martin, a mom with children in the County schools, said S.B. 226, which “removes obscene materials from school libraries” is a good first step but does not actually ban books with obscene content from school libraries. She said it only allows for a review process of the books.

“He [Kemp} says it removes obscene materials from school,” Martin said. “No, it doesn’t. It only created a review process that can potentially remove books from school...for Forsyth County it used to be a review process that lasted 45 days per book. Now it’s down to 10 days so I do see that as a positive.”

Martin said she initially didn’t believe the accusations of explicit material being found in the school libraries because she knew that Forsyth County is known for being very conservative.

After doing some research and skimming the pages of the books called in question, she said her mouth dropped at what she saw.

Since then, she has founded “The Mama Bears of Forsyth County,” a grassroots group with a goal to protect their children from those books.

“We are dedicated to protecting our children from any kind of sexualized content that would harm their innocence,” Martin said. “That’s our main goal. I don’t care if it’s LBGTQ, heterosexual or homosexual, the point is if it’s sexualized we don’t want our kids to be any part of it….. We don’t want it in our kids’ libraries.”

She said they have a list of over 70 books they found in one of the schools containing descriptive graphic content. This school was a middle school.

During one of the School Board meetings, she said they tried to read one of the books out loud but the Board would not let them.

Despite the anger many parents felt at the school officials, she said she is not too hard on them, believing that these books gradually made their way into the schools and took everyone by surprise.

“What we are finding is that the American Library Association gives awards to books that have controversial content because they want to get it into the children’s hands,” Martin said. “When librarians see these books with the seals on the cover, the librarians think ‘Hey! We need to get this in there.’”

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Cindy Martin founded “The Mama Bears of Forsyth County,” to protect children from explicit books found in school libraries(Image by Cindy Martin)

Kemp also accused those supporting the books and other controversial subjects of having an agenda, citing the new laws as keeping “woke” agendas out of the classroom and ball fields.

“It [H.B. 1084] ensures all of our state and nation’s history is taught accurately,” Kemp said. “Because here in Georgia our classrooms will not be pawns to those who indoctrinate our kids with their partisan political agendas.”

To Kemp, making sure parents have the “ultimate say” in their child’s education, teaching the American dream in classrooms and banning biological boys from playing on girls’ sports teams are not controversial opinions.

“As parents of three daughters, Marty [the first lady] and I want every young girl in her state to have every opportunity to succeed in a sport that they love,” Kemp said. “That should not be controversial.”

More information can be found on the new legislation on the Georgia General Assembly website.

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

To learn more about this topic, read “Two controversial education bills just passed in the Georgia General Assembly are hitting home in Forsyth County

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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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