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Menk argues law, policy with school board attorney


  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • Aug. 11, 2022 - 4:54 PM

Menk argues law, policy with school board attorney

Charlie Neely

Outgoing Coweta County Board of Education member Linda Menk chose to stand her ground on Policy IFA-R, Instructional Materials and Content, suggesting that the board should override Georgia law to retain the previous policy’s more inclusive language.​ Board Attorney Nathan Lee disagreed, saying the legislature’s intent is clear.

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

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

Instead, Menk chose to stand her ground on Policy IFA-R, Instructional Materials and Content, suggesting that the board should override Georgia law to retain the previous policy’s more inclusive language.

To align with state law, IFA-R was revised to eliminate previous provisions allowing any Coweta resident or school employee to initiate the complaint process at any public school in the county. It also strikes “community persons” 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 – students at each school.

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

“I don’t care what the Georgia General Assembly came out with,” Menk said. “This is an interpretation of law and this is wrong. If you're not a parent, you're not a guardian, an employee of the school system or serve on one of these select committees that are hand-picked for the people to serve on them, you have no voice.”

Board Attorney Nathan Lee disagreed, saying the legislature’s intent is clear.

SB 226 states, in part, that “each local board of education shall adopt a complaint resolution policy for its local school system to be used to address complaints submitted by parents or guardians alleging that material that is 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.”

“It says it twice in there,” Lee said. “The legislature's intent is this is a dispute resolution process for parents or permanent guardians.”

Menk persisted.

“Mr. Lee, it does not say to eliminate citizens and other members of the community,” she said.

But Horton said revising the policy to reflect changes in state law does not exclude members of the public – including those who are not parents or guardians of children in Coweta Schools – from providing input on the school system’s instructional materials.

Approved instructional resources are listed by subject area on the school system website (www.cowetaschools.net), and submission forms for feedback from any member of the public are available around the clock by clicking on a listed resource.

That’s in addition to at least six other policies that address community involvement in the school system’s decision-making processes, Horton said, not including the direct accessibility of staff and school board members.

“There are other ways that any citizen, parent or not, can communicate – with me, with staff, with members of this board – about any concern that they have,” he said. “The intent with instructional materials is to follow the law that the legislature clearly laid out this past session. There are ample opportunities (for public input) and we welcome that feedback any time.”

Board member Amy Dees said she had heard from community members concerned about the policy change.

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

The measure is in direct response to changes in state law regarding instructional materials that may be harmful to minors – a concern that political activists nationwide have been leveraging in attempts to ban “objectionable” books in classrooms and school libraries.

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

Of the representatives who lodged those complaints, only one was a parent to students in the Coweta County School System at the time, and she challenged a book in a school her children did not attend. None of the complainants would now be eligible to participate in the process under the revision that aligned Coweta’s board policy with SB 226.

“I believe the recent political activism merited the state’s attention on this issue,” Dees said. “Here in Coweta, local political activists have hijacked this policy and used it in a manner to be disruptive to our school system and our individual schools. But on this policy matter, the language of this law and our board policies are set to empower our parents.”

While proposed policy changes were introduced at the board’s July meeting and tabled for 30 days to allow for review, Menk did not publicly express any concerns over IFA-R until just before the vote was called Tuesday, when she continued to insist she had read SB 226 and it did not say the board had to revise its policy.

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

Lee said he received a group 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 a lawsuit.

“It’s the same three or four emails, but they all say basically 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 follow the law.’ My advice to you is to follow this very clear law from the legislature.”

Board members voted 6-1 to approve all policy revisions, with Menk opposed.