Georgia educators plan to sue state’s ‘divisive concepts’ law

Georgia is the latest state to face the prospect of a lawsuit challenging its “divisive concepts” law for being vague and instilling fear in educators about the consequences of talking about race and racism in the classroom.

According to a Nov. 4 letter sent to the state’s attorney general by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Education Association and the Georgia Association of Educators, the groups plan to sue the state for enacting a list of controversial concepts that it teachers are prohibited from discussing in class and creating a chilling effect on class discourse.

Since 2021, 17 States passed similar laws restricting the teaching of what they initially called “critical race theory” and later “divisive concepts”. Legislation has been introduced in more than 40 states to ban such concepts, first seen in an executive order by former President Donald Trump in 2020.

Georgian law includes a prohibition on teaching: that anyone is responsible for acts committed by persons of his race, that an individual should feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress” at because of their race, and that anyone, by reason of their race, is inherently racist or oppressive.

It also prohibits “racial stereotyping” or “racial scapegoating”, which are defined in the law as the attribution of character traits, flaws or prejudices to a race, the adoption of personal beliefs that the law deems as indoctrination of students, or teaching that the United States is fundamentally racist.

“When we talk about the majority population trying to change the history of Georgia saying that certain concepts might hurt the feelings of the majority community, they don’t think about the whitewashing of history and how it might denigrate Georgia. experience of another group of people from this state, who are just as Georgian as they are,” said Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgian chapter of the NAACP, in a previous interview.

By law, all school districts in Georgia are required to formulate policies that comply with them and set out a complaint process for parents, students, and employees in the event of violations.

Vague and confusing language cited as problematic

Experts across the country have called these laws, including Georgia’s, confusing and vague., because they do not specify what teachers can and cannot say. In other states, even professional development on implicit biases has led to the demotion of district accreditation..

The Georgia lawsuit alleges state law violates the First and 14th Amendments, saying it attempts to censor classroom discussions. Teachers who are part of the lawsuit have been unable to do their job of teaching students the truth about history or social studies for fear of reprisals, according to Craig Goodmark, an attorney representing a teacher. world history of the AP in the lawsuit. . Goodmark also works as a network attorney for the Georgia Association of Educators, which is believed to be one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“Feedback from our members and teachers in the field is that they just don’t understand or know what the law prohibits,” he said. “It’s confusing and there’s growing concern that if they don’t know what’s actually breaking the law, they could be held responsible for something they weren’t told about.”

Similar legal challenges have led to varied results in other states

Georgia would be the sixth state where teachers’ unions and civil rights organizations have sued divisive concept laws. So far only one lawsuit, the first, in Arizona, has successfully struck down the state law.

Lawsuits in Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Florida are still ongoing. But because each of those laws was drafted differently, Goodmark said, it’s hard to say whether they set a good precedent for the Georgia trial.

“This is one of those laws that shouldn’t exist either legally or as a policy,” Goodmark said. “It’s bad for public education and bad for our country.”

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