Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia on Thursday signed several education bills into law, including one banning the instruction of “divisive concepts” pertaining to race in classrooms.
“Today we’re here … to sign legislation that puts our children ahead of partisan agenda and gets parents back in charge of their kids’ education,” Kemp said during a news conference.
Among the bills signed on Thursday was HB 1084, known as the “Protect Students First Act.” The law defines “divisive concepts” as, among others, those that teach “the United States of America is fundamentally racist; an individual, by virtue of his or her race, is inherently or consciously racist or oppressive toward individuals of other races,” and “an individual, solely by virtue of his or her race, bears individual responsibility for actions committed in the past by other individuals of the same race.”
The law is part of a broader movement by conservative lawmakers across the country to limit how race is taught and discussed in schools, with proponents of such measures arguing that the bans are about making sure parents have an ultimate say in their child’s education.
Critics on Thursday blasted Kemp, with the ACLU of Georgia saying parents in the state want their children to be taught accurate curricula.
“Whether you are white, Black, Hispanic or Asian— most parents want their children to learn about history the way they learn about math— as accurately as possible,” Andrea Young, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.
“My son should be able to go into his school library and find books that reflect what his family looks like, just like every other student in Georgia,” Amanda Lee, a parent, educator and president-elect of the Georgia Library Media Association, said at a separate news conference Thursday to oppose the bills. “Brian Kemp is signing several bills today that will take away student rights. They will have a chilling effect on education across Georgia and limit the exchange of free ideas which prepare our students for college and careers.”
Kemp also signed into law HB 1178, known as the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” which provides greater transparency to parents and legal guardians regarding what their students are being taught, and SB 226, which bans literature or books deemed to be offensive in nature from school libraries.
“Unfortunately, there are those outside of our state and other members of the General Assembly who chose partisan politics over common sense reforms for our students as well as our parents,” the governor said Thursday.
HB 1084 also sets up an athletic executive oversight committee in the state that has the authority to establish a ban on transgender women participating on sports teams consistent with their gender at high schools in the state.
The debate over the inclusion of transgender athletes, particularly women and girls, has become a political flashpoint, especially among conservatives. But the Georgia law is notable in that it doesn’t create an outright ban, like other laws have in GOP-states around the country. Critics, however, have nonetheless criticized the provision for addressing what they say is a non-issue in the state.
“Make no mistake – there is no crisis with transgender youth playing sports in Georgia. Decades of experience in states across the country show that this is a non-issue,” said Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement earlier this month.
“Self-serving politicians, catering to an extreme portion of their party’s base, are showing that they’re willing to harm vulnerable kids who just want to play with their friends,” she added.