Republicans seek to shed light on Georgia schools policy

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FILE – Georgia House Pro President Tem Jan Jones, a Republican from Milton, addresses the House at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, January 11, 2021. Jones works on a bill during the regular session of 2022 to better prevent students from seeing inappropriate material on the Internet. (Alyssa Pointer / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

PA

Social conservatives are looking to put education policy at the forefront when Georgian lawmakers start meeting on Monday, driven by a nationwide uproar over the pandemic and the race.

“I think education is going to be the No. 1 issue on Capitol Hill this year,” said Cole Muzio, chairman of the Frontline Policy Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group.

Republicans are drawing inspiration from Glenn Youngkin’s victory as governor in Virginia, believing that school policy can influence voters who voted Democrats in the recent election in Georgia.

The two main issues are likely to be efforts to ban or block obscene material from school websites and libraries, and to regulate what schools can teach about race. But conservatives also want to give parents greater ability to review school curricula, restrict sex education, ban transgender girls from playing sports in high school, and ensure religious freedom for students.

Democrats see the push as being driven primarily by politics.

“These are not the central issues we need to focus on,” said parliamentary minority leader James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon.

Republicans are rallying against critical race theory, a term that stretches from its original meaning by examining how societal structures perpetuate racial disparities to a broader accusation against diversity initiatives and education about race. race.

Muzio said his group rejected the idea that “the whole story is about race and division.” He said some teachers can create an atmosphere of “inherent hostility in the classroom.”

We don’t know what the proposals will do. Senate Education Committee Chairman Chuck Payne, a Republican from Dalton, said on Wednesday he had not seen any bills yet. The state’s Education Council passed a resolution in June saying schools should not ‘brainwash’ students and should not teach that anyone who is inherently racist or should be treated differently because of their race.

Democrats say Georgia should not disinfect or turn away from history.

“I believe I am a stronger person because I understand and have learned not the simple things but the complexity of who we are,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said in December. “Because you can’t improve yourself, we can’t be a stronger country if we lie to each other about where we were and how we are getting to the best place. “

A possible point of contention is whether parents will be able to go to court or force action if they find violations. School groups want complaints to go to the state Professional Standards Commission, which deals with ongoing complaints about teachers’ licensing.

Republicans are also pushing new limits on inappropriate content in schools, another theme that echoes fighting in other states. Last year, Senate Bill 226 nearly passed. It originally proposed subjecting school librarians to criminal prosecution for obscenity, but was rewritten to allow those who oppose the material to appeal to a school principal, who would have seven days to decide whether to keep a book or other material.

Supporters of the bill have in fact said that one of the main concerns is student access to proprietary databases. House Speaker Tem Jan Jones, a Republican from Milton, said she sought to prevent online access to inappropriate material, saying she wanted the state’s Department of Education to ‘ensures that all schools use adequate screening programs. She said online learning during the pandemic revealed weak controls.

“The concern is the ease with which students may be exposed to age-inappropriate material from school-provided devices or school-authorized search engines,” Jones said.

School librarians and free speech advocates have opposed the limits, but Jones said some concerns were inaccurate. “I’m not looking to burn books,” she said.

Debates over race and obscenity boil down to a parent’s ability to control their child’s education. This could lead to efforts to create a Parents Bill of Rights, something that could gain the support of Governor Brian Kemp.

“It’s a parent’s right to be heard,” Muzio said.

State Superintendent Richard Woods told The Associated Press he will ask the state’s Board of Education next week to adopt transparency measures. They include public listings of all outpatient programs used by a school district and all district-level tests given to students. Districts would also be required to publish budgets and surveys of students, teachers and staff.

Some lawmakers could seek to require school districts to conduct in-person classes, ban them from requiring students and employees to wear masks, and ban them from requiring vaccines. Lawmakers could also debate again whether the state should subsidize more students attending private schools. Lawmakers could increase the amount of taxes they pay to private scholarship groups via a tax credit above the current cap of $ 100 million.

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.