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Georgia state panel votes to cut “WOKE” DEI words from K-12 teacher curriculum


Diversity, equity and inclusion, critical race theory, social and emotional learning, and other buzzwords are under attack by the state of Georgia and a recent vote last week proves it.

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, an 18-member governor-appointed body whose roles include setting rules for Georgia’s teacher training programs, voted unanimously Thursday to remove so-called woke words including “equity” and “inclusion” from the state’s teacher preparation rules and lesson books. 

In addition to the word “diversity,” which the commission voted last month to delete from the preparation standards, Chairman Brian Sirmans said the changes were requested by the University System of Georgia to clarify expectations for incoming teachers. 

He said he was told by university system officials that these words have come to mean different things to different people in recent years and have made interpreting them difficult.

Opponents, including some college education professors, previously slammed the rewrite as the latest attack on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to pop up in Georgia and in other conservative-led states.

Commissioners were not present at Thursday’s meeting, instead conducting the meeting via a zoom service while those wanting to speak were required to be present in a downtown Atlanta board room by 3:30 p.m.

Before Thursday’s vote, Sirmans claimed that the changes were not aimed at reducing educational opportunities for minority students in Georgia but many who attended the meeting felt otherwise. Teachers, parents and civil rights activists who spoke during a public comment period said deleting those words will leave incoming teachers unprepared for the diverse mix of students they will see in their classrooms.

The commissioners, all appointed by Governor Brian Kemp, voted without discussion to delete those words and scores of references to so-called “ambiguous terms” from the rules that guide the colleges and programs that train future educators. 

The move is “a step back,” said the Georgia Coalition for Education Justice, an advocacy group that held a news conference immediately after the meeting.

“To blatantly remove all references to diversity, equity and inclusion is just horrible,” said Aireane Montgomery, president and CEO of Georgia Educators for Equity & Justice. “To erase diversity, equity and inclusion is to ignore and minimize marginalized communities.”

Many of those who are opposed say they are concerned that the proposed changes could put Georgia’s educator preparation rules at odds with national professional standards and open the state up to federal scrutiny for protections of LGBTQ, minority or bilingual students. 

Jonathan Campos with the Intercultural Development Research Association compared the rules changes to “some of the darkest periods in history” when Hispanic children were not allowed to speak Spanish in school and it was illegal to teach enslaved children to read.

Other speakers argued the rules changes will strike a blow at the morale of minority teachers in Georgia and prompt many to leave the profession.

Said Mikayla Arciaga, Georgia advocacy director and education policy fellows coordinator for the Intercultural Development Research Association, “It is frustrating because they are asking anyone who wants to speak publicly to be in downtown Atlanta at 3:30 p.m. on a weekday, but this affects more than just people in the metro area, and this is not accessible to those people.”

At a meeting last month, commissioners voted to remove the definition of diversity from Georgia’s teacher training documents. Thursday’s meeting is expected to include a vote on deleting “woke” words from guides for training teachers and replacing them with less controversial language.

Diversity, equity and inclusion, critical race theory, social and emotional learning and other buzzwords have become flashpoints at school board meetings as some conservative parents accuse teachers of seeking to spread liberal ideology in the classroom.

Members of the commission said that removing the words would not lessen Georgia teachers’ commitment to serving all of their students, but many educators still had concerns.

“The other part is that the language that they’re targeting most directly impacts historically marginalized populations,” Arciaga said. “The exclusion of phrases like linguistically diverse, culturally diverse, there’s pretty significant historical precedent of people who are linguistically or culturally diverse being excluded, students and their families, being excluded by the public education system. So moving away from the language that we will be intentional about serving you in all of these different individualities that you might bring is really, really concerning for those who are aware of that history of exclusion.”

Last month’s meeting also raised free speech concerns when commissioners on a hot mic talked about ignoring or filtering out the many emails from the public opposed to the project.

“It’s concerning to us that folks who went out of their way to express their concerns and their opposition to these changes went ignored, were completely ignored,” said Arciaga. “So, yeah, I worry that the response is going to fall on deaf ears. There seemed to be very little hesitation by the commissioners to even put a pause on this process, despite noting how significant the opposition had been. But something else that was expressed by them was concerns about why teachers might be opposed to this, and so we’re hoping to illustrate some of those concerns directly through public comment this time around.”

The rules outline the standards that dozens of colleges and other programs that train Georgia’s future K-12 teachers and other educators must meet to earn and maintain approval from the State commission.

The members unanimously approved the new language after a few brief questions. Three commissioners were absent. The new rules go into effect June 15.

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