Divisive Concepts Bill Wins Approval from House Ed Subcommittee
Members of the House Academic Innovations Subcommittee approved HB 1084, titled “Protect Students First Act,” from Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville). The bill is one of four pieces of legislation introduced this session that seek to define and prohibit the incorporation of “divisive concepts” in curriculum and mandatory training provided by school districts. (Information on SB 377, another of the divisive concepts bills, is available from PAGE HERE.) HB 1084 also would require districts to create a complaint process to respond to alleged violations of the prohibitions outlined in the bill and set an appeal process for the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review districts’ responses. The SBOE could suspend district waivers reflected in district charter or strategic waiver contracts for a minimum of 12 months.
Wade described HB 1084 as proactive legislation that provides parents a process to flag concerns about possible incorporation of divisive concepts and to have those concerns addressed by local school and district leaders. He also stated that the Georgia Professional Standards Commission suspended the licenses of 96 educators for one year and revoked the license of an additional 83 educators between December 2020 and December 2021, an indication that occasionally educators misstep. Wade characterized HB 1084 as an effort to reduce divisiveness and ensure each child is treated equally, regardless of his or her race. He said that the bill would not restrict the inclusion of concepts related to teaching about slavery and the United States' difficult racial history.
During public comment, PAGE Legislative Director Margaret Ciccarelli expressed support for transparency and meaningful parent feedback on school practices but questioned the feasibility of the complaint process at the school and district levels. She also noted the importance of ensuring that the proposed complaint process adds value to parents and the need to understand whether districts are following existing requirements for parent input. Ciccarelli highlighted the need to set clear guardrails for teachers so that they can sensitively and confidently serve students.
Read the PAGE summary of the version of HB 1084 considered today HERE. The bill moved forward to the full House Education Committee (a brief description of what happened there later in the day continues below).
Senate Ed Passes Transgender Student Athlete Bill, Holds Kemp's Parents' Bill of Rights
The Senate Education & Youth Committee passed SB 435, the “Save Girls Sports Act,” by Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone), which seeks to prohibit public schools and participating private schools from allowing students to participate in interscholastic or intramural athletics designated for students of the other sex, unless there is not an equivalent athletic program. Determination of gender would be based on the biological sex reported on students' official birth certificate, which is assumed to be accurate if it was completed at or near the time of their birth.
SB 435 would create a grievance process for students or their parents who are aggrieved by an anticipated or alleged violation. They would be able to file a grievance with the district or school employee designated to monitor compliance with the state’s laws prohibiting gender discrimination in athletics. If unsatisfied with the response, they could file an immediate appeal with the local school board. They also could seek to enforce the actions outlined in SB 435 by pursuing injunctive or declaratory relief. If they prevailed, they would be entitled to an award of reasonable attorney fees, court costs, and litigation expenses though not monetary damages. SB 435 now moves to Senate Rules, which may schedule it for a floor vote.
After considering SB 449, sponsored on behalf of Gov. Kemp by Sen. Clint Dixon (R-Buford), the committee held the “Parents' Bill of Rights” for potential changes to a provision requiring school districts to allow parents to opt-in to recordings of children through systems operated by the school district. Current policy allows parents to opt-out of such recordings, some of which are used for security purposes in school buildings and on school buses. It is likely the committee will meet again soon to pass an amended version of the legislation.
SB 449 also seeks to codify the right of parents to:
Direct the upbringing and the moral or religious training of their children
Review instructional materials intended for use in the classroom
Apply to public school or, as an alternative to public education, a private school, including a religious school, a home study program, or other available options, as authorized by law and subject to applicable enrollment requirements
Access and review all records relating to his or her minor child (with some legal exceptions)
Access information relating to promotion, retention policies, and graduation requirements
Consent in writing to photographs, video, or voice recordings of their children
The legislation allows parents to request from schools, in writing, the information outlined above and requires school leaders to respond within three business days but no later than 30 days. SB 449 allows parents to petition their local school districts regarding alleged violation of the Parents' Bill of Rights and to appeal to the SBOE. The legislation contains a posting requirement mandating that schools notify parents of their rights via school websites, including outlining procedures for parents to review instructional materials. The legislation also reiterates parents' rights to opt their children out of sex education.
House Education Committee Hears Bills on Elected Superintendents and Divisive Issues
The House Education Committee heard HR 496 by Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton), a constitutional amendment that would allow communities to vote to hold elections for their local school superintendents. Boards of education would be responsible for setting salary, qualifications, and duties for the elected position. Carpenter mentioned his intent is to remove politics from education. He said political issues in Gwinnett County Public Schools regarding the end of former superintendent Alvin Wilbanks’ contract were his main inspiration for the bill.
The committee also heard HB 1084 by Rep. Wade, which was passed out of subcommittee earlier in the day. The committee did not vote on the bill but is likely to do so soon.
Senate Higher Ed Approves Bill Changing Name of GED Diplomas and Providing Financial Support for Program Participants
The Senate Higher Education Committee heard SB 397 by Sen. Russ Goodman (R-Cogdell), which updates terminology referring to general education development (GED) diplomas by changing it to high school equivalency (HSE) diplomas. Goodman explained that Georgia now has multiple options for courses and exams that award diplomas to adults. The bill would also allow people participating in the HSE diploma program to receive a $200 voucher from the state to help pay for the course and exam.
Judiciary Non-Civil Subcommittee Passes Obscene Materials in Schools Bill
A subcommittee of the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee passed SB 226 by Sen. Jason Anavitarte (R-Dallas), which requires local boards of education to adopt complaint resolution processes to address parent complaints of student access of obscene materials in schools. Anavitarte addressed several concerns related to copyright issues in a substitute version of the bill available HERE.
House Subcommittee Hears Bill on SHBP Contracts
In today's meeting of the House Life and Health Insurance Subcommittee, Rep. Erick Allen (D-Smyrna) presented HB 1003, which aims to set limits on contracts the Department of Community Health (DCH) may enter into with health insurance providers for the State Health Benefit Plan (SHBP). Allen said the impetus for his bill is the disruption many SHBP members, including teachers, experience when health insurance providers change their in-network physicians and other healthcare providers during contractual disputes.
If approved, HB 1003 would prohibit DCH from entering into or renewing a contract with entities that provide health insurance plans if the insurer has terminated a contract early without cause or forced a renegotiation of an unexpired contract with a Georgia-based hospital or healthcare system within the prior 24 months, unless the qualified entity is the only available qualified entity.
The subcommittee did not vote on the bill as a vote is not needed for the full Insurance Committee to select a bill for discussion and a vote.
Senate Committee Passes Bill Prohibiting Schools from Dispensing Abortion-Inducing Medicine
The Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed SB 456, authored by Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White), which aims to set restrictions on the distribution of medicines that induce abortions. The bill would prohibit elementary and secondary schools as well as institutes of higher education from providing these drugs. Public schools are already prohibited from doing so under Georgia code section 20-2-773.
Thursday, Feb. 10 – Legislative Day 14
House Appropriations Committee, 7 a.m., 341 CAP
House Academic Support Subcommittee, 1 p.m., 606 CLOB
Friday, Feb 11 – Legislative Day 15