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OPINION: State telling local leaders how to operate is ironic
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Tom Spigolon

Why elect school boards or, for that matter, hire administrators to operate school systems in Georgia when the Georgia General Assembly is seeing fit to take over that task?

After all, they now are telling local systems essentially how to govern the schools in their areas with one-size-fits-all legislation for Georgia schools no matter where those schools are located — or even if the school systems are doing the same tasks already. 

The same rules will apply whether the schools are in inner-city Atlanta, rural Dawson County or suburban Alpharetta.

State lawmakers in the current General Assembly session are telling school boards and administrators how they should enforce health rules in their schools, how they should govern school board meetings, what books should go in their schools’ libraries, and what can’t be taught.

All this controversial legislation is well on its way to passage in this election year as the Republican-controlled General Assembly files bill after bill basically designed to fire up its base as it sees its chance to retake control of Congress and legislatures nationwide.

The Georgia House of Representatives has adopted a bill backed by Gov. Brian Kemp — currently in a fight for re-election against a candidate backed by former President Donald Trump — that would create what Kemp calls a parental bill of rights.

Proponents say parents have the right to see what their children are being taught — but if a parent objects to a method of teaching spelling or math they can demand to see what is being used.

It also would give parents authority over whether their children can participate in audio recordings, photos and videos; and requires school boards to allow parents to review all locally-approved methods of instruction — which already is in state and federal law.

Another bill, Senate Bill 226, would allow the state to ban certain books from Georgia’s public schools if the books are deemed inappropriate. 

“If parents do not want young children reading some very degrading type material, then this is a parent engagement process and allows due process for those parents to be able to challenge these materials,” said House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Chairman James Burchett, R-Waycross, as quoted in the Atlanta World.

But most school systems — including that bastion of liberalism DeKalb County — already have media policies in place that use local boards of parents and teachers to monitor which books should and should not be available to students. 

Should lawmakers from rural Georgia — who come from a different world in many ways from urban educators — be telling administrators in the city of Atlanta what is best for students to read? Especially when half the battle these days is to get young high school students to read and understand anything beyond their last text message? 

Many of these books encourage young people to consider the many schools of thought concerning everything from racism to finance to government.

Another bill roaring its way to passage in this election year is HB 1084, which would prevent teachers from promoting “divisive concepts” in schools. 

The bill is sponsored by State Rep. Will Wade from rural Dawsonville and says divisive concepts include the superiority of one race over another, that a person is already racist because of the color of their skin, and more. 

It also is among a series of Republican-backed initiatives introduced in several states this election year that mention critical race theory, which has never been taught in any Georgia schools and few colleges.

So, yes, many disagree with the assumptions of this arcane topic. But to ban it altogether and not allow discussion among young people entering a world where questions about race still dominate social media and popular culture? 

Does this mean teachers would fear for their jobs if they teach about the little-discussed marks on our past such as lynchings or forced segregation?

Opponents say such concepts are not being taught in Georgia schools. State Rep. Doreen Carter, D-Lithonia, said young people “have hard questions” but a teacher would shy away from discussing them.

But proponents say nothing in the bill would prohibit the teaching of slavery, racial segregation or the Holocaust.

Kemp also is pushing legislation that bans school systems from imposing mask mandates in their buildings.

Proponents say parents are the best decision-makers when it comes to the health and education of their children. Opponents say the pandemic is not over and school systems — who sometimes are the de facto parents for students from some homes — should be able to control what goes on in their buildings. 

Georgia’s leaders don’t like it when the federal government imposes rules they deem as too intrusive or ... liberal. But they have no problem telling officials at the local level how to operate. 

Tom Spigolon is news editor of The Covington News. He may be reached at