Sex Ed, Critical Race Theory Among Education-Related Bills Awaiting Georgia Lawmakers

Conservatives in Georgia are focusing on education ahead of the state's next legislative session, which is set to start Monday.

The top issues appear to be the regulation of what teachers can say about race and censoring any online or library materials that could be deemed "obscene." Other restrictions could include sex education and transgender women playing sports.

One issue many Republicans have been vocal about is "critical race theory"—a term that refers to how racism has shaped U.S. policies and societal structures. However, it has recently become a buzzword for most anything having to do with teaching about race or diversity.

Cole Muzio, president of conservative lobbying group the Frontline Policy Council, said his group does not subscribe to the idea that "all history is a history of race and division" and that he worries some teachers could create an "inherent hostility in the classroom" by teaching this.

Democrats such as Stacey Abrams, who is running for Georgia governor, disagree, saying educators should not have to avoid teaching the uglier parts of history.

"I believe that I'm a stronger person because I understand and was taught not the simple pieces, but the complexity of who we are," she said. "Because you can't get better, we can't be a stronger country if we lie to ourselves about where we were, and how we get to the better place."

Georgia Capitol, Atlanta
Conservative lobbyists in Georgia are looking to restrict things like sex education, critical race theory and "obscene" materials in schools during the upcoming legislative session. Above, the Georgia State Capitol is seen on January 6, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

"I think education is going to be the No. 1 issue at the capitol this year," Muzio said.

Republicans are taking cues from Glenn Youngkin's gubernatorial victory in Virginia, believing school policy can sway swing voters who voted for Democrats in recent Georgia elections.

Democrats see the push as mostly motivated by politics.

"These are not the central issues that we need to focus on," said House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Macon Democrat.

It's unclear what the proposals against critical race theory will do. Senate Education Committee Chairman Chuck Payne, a Dalton Republican, said Wednesday he had yet to see any bills. The state Board of Education in June adopted a resolution saying schools should not "indoctrinate" students and should not teach that anyone is inherently racist or should be treated differently because of their race.

One possible point of contention is whether parents will be able to go to court or otherwise force action if they see violations. School groups want complaints to go to the state Professional Standards Commission, which handles current teacher licensure complaints.

Republicans are also pushing new limits on inappropriate content in schools, another theme that echoes fights in other states. Last year, Senate Bill 226 came close to passing. It originally proposed to make school librarians subject to criminal prosecution for obscenity but was rewritten to let people who object to material appeal to a school's principal, who would have seven days to decide whether to keep a book or other material.

Proponents of the bill actually said one main concern is student access to proprietary databases. House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, said she seeks to prevent online access to inappropriate materials, saying she wants the state Department of Education to ensure all schools use adequate filtering programs. She said online learning during the pandemic has exposed weak controls.

"The concern is the ease with which students can be exposed to age inappropriate materials from school-issued devices or school-authorized search engines," Jones said.

School librarians and free speech advocates have opposed limits, but Jones said some concerns are inaccurate. "I do not seek to burn any books," she said.

The race and obscenity debates boil down to a parent's ability to control their child's education. That could lead to efforts to create a parent's bill of rights, something that could win support from 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 Board of Education next week to adopt transparency measures. They include public listings of all outside curricula used by a school district and all district-level tests given to students. Districts would also be required to post budgets and surveys of students, teachers and staff.

Some lawmakers could seek to require school districts to hold in-person class, bar them from requiring students and employees to wear masks and bar them from requiring vaccines. Legislators could also debate anew whether the state should subsidize more students attending private schools. Lawmakers could raise the amount of tax money they funnel to private scholarship groups via a tax credit above the current $100 million ceiling.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Oklahoma Library
Republicans in Georgia are pushing new limits on inappropriate content in schools, another theme that echoes fights in other states. Above, a library. iStock/Getty