ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers are advancing two measures meant to limit public school students’ access to inappropriate or obscene materials.
On Thursday, a House Education subcommittee passed House Bill 1217, which is designed to tighten Georgia’s standards preventing schoolchildren from accessing material harmful to minors using school computers or internet networks. It now awaits action by the full committee. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee passed Senate Bill 226 on a split voice vote, creating a process for parents to demand removal of books and other materials. It moves forward for consideration by the full House.
The measures are part of a broader conservative push on school issues this year, including efforts to ban transgender girls from playing school sports and to give parents the right to examine instructional materials. Republicans also seek to ban critical race theory, a term stretched from its original meaning as an examination of how societal structures perpetuate white dominance to a broader indictment of diversity initiatives and teaching about race.
The internet filtering bill requires the state Department of Education to each year publish standards that districts must meet for using internet filters to block access to materials that are obscene, pornographic or harmful to minors. It also calls for using notification systems that will let a district employee know if a school computer or network is used to access such material.
The state also would be required to provide technical assistance, a list of acceptable vendors and training guidelines for school districts. Each school district or charter school would have to provide a copy of its acceptable use policy and filtering systems to the state for annual review, starting in fall 2022.
“This is a technology based bill that is to serve our families and to protect those youngest learners,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Chris Erwin of Homer.
The bill as presented Thursday calls for any student or school employee who violates a school district’s acceptable use policy to be disciplined, even if the violation was unintentional. Erwin said he would change the measure to only cover unintentional violations after an Associated Press reporter pointed out the language. The measure also allows parents to entirely opt their students out of using the internet.
The anti-obscenity measure would let parents file objections to material with a school’s principal, who would have seven business days to decide whether to remove or restrict access. Parents could appeal to their local school board.
“It’s giving parents and guardians a process to address concerns about materials in a K-12 environment,” Republican Sen. Jason Anavitarte of Dallas told the committee on Wednesday.
Advocates said some local school boards refuse to take action on complaints, essentially ignoring them.
“The main concern is the parents who are not being heard,” said Taylor Hawkins of Frontline Policy Action, a conservative group. “Some schools have shut down parents’ concerns without ever hearing their concerns over these issues.”
Opponents said the measure will be used to ban books containing themes preparing teenagers for adulthood, including race, sexuality or violence.
“By doing a blanket ban on certain things, you’re not teaching a kid to use discernment,” said Desirrae Jones of the New Georgia Project “You’re teaching them to be afraid of things.”
The superintendent of the 53,000-student Forsyth County district announced earlier this year that the system had removed eight books from high school libraries including “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.
Some anti-obscenity advocates want anyone, not just parents, to be able to make complaints. House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee Chairman James Burchett, a Waycross Republican, said complaint rights should only rest with parents or guardians.
“We are not going to turn this bill into a weapon for every taxpayer to harass the school system,” he said.
The measure, when originally introduced last year, proposed to make school librarians subject to criminal prosecution for obscenity.