A once-controversial bill aimed at protecting parents from being removed from local school board meetings sailed through a House committee on Wednesday after major changes, while another so-called parental rights bill passed a landmark vote at a Senate committee squeaked by.
Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller’s Senate Bill 588 passed by a 32-20 vote in the Senate last week, but the House Education Committee unanimously gave it its approval on Wednesday afternoon.
The Gainesville Republican running for lieutenant governor was not present at the meeting.
“I really want to welcome the changes to Sen. Miller’s bill, and it greatly appreciates his intention to encourage greater parental participation, transparency and an understanding of the rules of school board meetings so that they can attend,” he said House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones.
The move came in response to lively school board meetings across the state during the pandemic, where parents spoke, sometimes passionately, about face mask and curriculum guidelines. Several parents were removed or arrested.
The bill will require local education boards to make public comments at their meetings and prohibit them from requiring parents to give more than 24 hours notice before a meeting if they want to have a say. Boards must also allow audio and video recordings of their meetings and post announcements on their website about upcoming meetings and codes of conduct, outlining what actions could result in their eviction.
The latest version of the bill addresses concerns raised at previous hearings that boards would have to reinstate parents who repeatedly made a riot or made threats and could only remove them after they caused a disturbance.
Under the new language, the boards would be responsible for creating their own rules that could prohibit access for those with a history of making brouhahas. Parents who feel they have been disadvantaged by a panel’s decision could take the district to court.
Democrats said the nod to local control is a welcome improvement.
Another bill, House Bill 1178, sponsored by Republican Rep. Josh Bonner from Fayetteville, received closer approval in the Senate Education and Youth Committee. It was passed 6-5 after committee chairman Chuck Payne, a Dalton Republican, broke a 5-5 tie.
A mirror image of Gwinnett’s Senate Bill 449 by Republican Sen. Clint Dixon, it establishes specific rights for parents of public school children, including access to all their children’s educational materials and records.
Supporters say the measure is needed to prevent instances where schools disregard parents who want to be more involved.
“There have been numerous cases across the country and a growing body of evidence showing that in certain circumstances and in some school systems, schools, not necessarily widespread, have been a problem and are increasingly ignoring parental opinion. the right to have a say in their children’s education,” said Taylor Hawkins, policy director of the Conservative Frontline Policy Council. “They don’t hear their complaints. They are denying their requests for access to records, and those things would be addressed here in Georgia under the provisions of this bill.”
Opponents call it unnecessary, citing existing laws designed to give parents access to classroom materials and saying it could allow a parent with an agenda to force a teacher to change their entire lesson plan for fear of a lawsuit.
“We don’t have laws to undermine the role of parents, we have laws to protect their rights,” said Cecily Harsch-Kinnane, director of policy and public affairs at Public Education Matters Georgia.
“Giving parents this fundamental right to direct their children’s education raises the specter of schools being forced to contend with a multitude of parental demands, curriculum, disciplines and teaching methods and the attendant possibility of numerous lawsuits from disgruntled parents. And it increases the possibility that some parents, through individual demands, will effectively jeopardize what is on offer for all students, violating the students’ right to a solid and solid education provided by the professionals in the classroom.”