Menk discusses law and politics with school board attorney

It was an unusually long list of policy tweaks, implementations, additions and deletions, but outgoing Coweta County School Board member Linda Menk questioned the legality of it. only one.

Not the IKBB policy, the Divive Concepts complaint resolution process (“critical race theory”). Not IKBC Policy, Complaint Resolution Process for Material Harmful to Minors. Not the JRB policy, the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” championed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Instead, Menk chose to stand firm on the IFA-R policy, educational materials and content, suggesting the board should override Georgia law to retain the more inclusive language of the previous policy.

To align with state law, the IFA-R has been revised to eliminate previous provisions allowing any resident or employee of the Coweta School to initiate the complaint process at any school. county public. It also removes “people from the community” from the list of people allowed to participate in material review and selection committees, narrowing participation to include curriculum and media specialists, administrators, teachers, parents. and – in some cases – the students of each school.

The new legislation, SB 226, does not affect the existing right of parents or permanent guardians of Coweta to formally or informally object to material in classrooms and school media centers. However, the new law grants this right only to parents and legal guardians and allows them to challenge documents only in the schools where their children are enrolled.

“I don’t care what the Georgia General Assembly came up with,” Menk said. “It’s an interpretation of the law and it’s wrong. If you’re not a parent, you’re not a guardian, an employee of the school system, or sit on one of those select committees that are handpicked for people to sit on, you don’t have a voice.

Council counsel Nathan Lee disagreed, saying the legislature’s intent was clear.

SB 226 states, in part, that “each local school board shall adopt a complaint resolution policy for its local school system to be used in dealing with complaints submitted by parents or guardians alleging that material harmful to minors has been provided or is currently available to a student enrolled in the local school system who is the child of such parent or guardian.

“He says it twice in there,” Lee said. “The intent of the legislature is that this is a dispute resolution process for parents or permanent guardians.”

Menk persisted.

“Mr. Lee, he’s not saying eliminate citizens and other members of the community,” she said.

But Horton said revising the policy to reflect changes in state law does not preclude members of the public — including those who are not parents or guardians of children in Coweta schools — from providing comments on the educational material of the school system.

Approved educational resources are listed by subject area on the school system’s website (www.cowetaschools.net), and submission forms for feedback from any member of the public are available 24 hours a day by clicking on a listed resource.

This is in addition to at least six other policies that address community participation in school system decision-making processes, Horton said, not including direct accessibility of staff and school board members.

“There are other ways any citizen, parent or not, can communicate — with me, with staff, with members of this council — about any concerns they have,” he said. . “The intent with the educational materials is to follow the law that the Legislature has made clear in the last session. There are many opportunities (for public participation) and we welcome such feedback at any time.”

Board member Amy Dees said she’s heard from community members who are concerned about the policy change.

“While there are many opportunities for public input and participation in our school system, this individual law reserves that formal process for parents and legal guardians, who work with teachers and school administrators to determine the suitability of material. in their school,” she said. .

The measure is a direct response to changes in state law regarding educational materials that may be harmful to minors – a concern that political activists around the country have exploited in an attempt to ban “objectionable” books from classrooms. classroom and school libraries.

From October 2021 to April this year, complaints were made against six books available in middle and high schools in Coweta, all written by local representatives of national political organizations like No Left Turn in Education.

Of the representatives who filed these complaints, only one was a parent of students in the Coweta County school system at the time, and she challenged a book at a school her children had not attended. None of the plaintiffs would now be eligible to participate in the process under the review that aligned Coweta’s board policy with SB 226.

“I believe recent political activism has earned state attention on this issue,” Dees said. “Here in Coweta, local political activists have hijacked this policy and used it in a way to disrupt our school system and our individual schools. But on this policy issue, the language of this law and the policies of our board are designed to hold our parents accountable.

While the proposed policy changes were introduced at the July board meeting and tabled for 30 days to allow for review, Menk did not publicly express concerns about the IFA-R until just before the vote trigger on Tuesday, when she continued to insist that she had read SB 226 and he did not say the board needed to revise its policy.

“There was no need to eliminate the community in this language,” she said. “It was not a requirement of the law.”

Lee said he received a cluster of similarly worded emails shortly before Tuesday’s meeting, as did several board and staff members. He said the emails appeared to be auto-generated and contained threats of legal action.

“It’s the same three or four emails, but they’re all basically saying the same thing – threatening legal action,” Lee said. “I’ve never heard of a cause of action that says, ‘We’re going to sue you if you obey the law.’ My advice to you is to follow this very clear law of the legislature.

Board members voted 6 to 1 to approve all revisions to the policy, with Menk opposing them.

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