Educators ‘fearful’ of new public education rules in Georgia

New rules for public educators in Georgia would eliminate the words "diversity," equity" and "inclusion" from program standards.
Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 11:59 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - New rules for public school teachers in Georgia would eliminate the words diversity, equity, and inclusion from program standards.

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission met on Thursday for another vote on the issue. The group is the certifying body for all educators in the state, including counselors and administrators.

Many advocates, teachers and civil rights organizations filled the room asking the commission to reject the proposal which calls to remove the terms from the 2023 Education Preparation Standards.

“Censoring educators and limiting opportunities will have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable students, including Black students and other students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students. If adopted, the GaPSC proposed rule changes will undermine the ability of educators and administrators to create a diverse and welcoming school environment and threaten to eliminate critical tools needed to advance educational equity, thereby negatively impacting student outcomes,” the Georgia Coalition for Education Justice said in a press release sent to Atlanta News First.

Last month, Atlanta News First reported that the documents highlighting the proposed changes included the word “diverse” would be replaced with the word “different”.

“I’d like to remind the Commission most of you educators, that words matter. As such, we cannot be simplistic in believing these amendments merely replace one word with another, changing language does change intent,” said Sarah Hunt-Blackwell with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Replacing the word diverse with words like different and unique implies that there is a norm. A sameness which excludes those who do not fit in,” she said.

Before public comment, Commission Chairman Brian Sirmans explained the proposed amendments. He addressed other commissioners who attended the meeting virtually.

“At today’s commission meeting, you’ll be asked to consider proposed education preparation rules. In making your decision, it is important to note, what the proposed rule amendments that address the simplification and or removal of ambiguous terms are and or not,” Sirmans said. “Regarding the origin of these requests, the rulemaking process to amend the rules began when the University System of Georgia asked the Professional Standards Commission to clarify expectations for educator preparation programs (EPPs). We were asked to remove or simplify words that in recent years that have taken on multiple and unintended meanings,” Sirmans said.  “We were told that these terms were leading to difficulty and interpreting program standards, and we don’t want these words to distract EPPs from their work of preparing effective educators. We replace them with commonly understood terms,” he said.

“These proposed rule amendments were not intended to refine or remove the care preparation providers place on meeting student’s needs or prescribe the way EPPs choose to meet the program standards. We still expect EPPs to prepare educators who are well equipped to address the learning needs of all students they may encounter and who are well prepared to meet the students where they are within a positive and welcoming learning environment,” Sirmans said.

After the meeting, Atlanta News First asked the state’s Professional Standards Commission for clarification, but they declined to speak. They asked Atlanta News First to send an email to the executive secretary. Atlanta News First reached out to the executive secretary via email and the commissioner, and we’re still waiting to hear back.

Meanwhile, many people expressed their disappointment during the meeting.

“I am very disappointed that this happened this way,” said Adria Kitchens, an advocate and mother. “I’m always shocked especially that there are so many teachers on the commission who would vote for something like this and that women and people who look like me do not recognize this impacts us in such a harmful way and for people who were like my son who needed different teaching methods in a more diverse thinking within the educators, I’m really shocked,” she said.

“By removing DEI training requirements this body turns a blind eye to students’ academic, psychological and emotional needs,” Hunt-Blackwell said.

Others agreed there would be issues with removing diversity, equity, and inclusion language.

“Teachers, parents and students are fearful that this wave of change is sweeping throughout our nation to eradicate progression that has been made to address diversity is sickening,” said Deidra Wright, an educator.

Many people now hope this is not the final decision.

“I hope there is some way to change this decision,” Kitchens said.

“If they have a consciousness or morality, they will repeal this,” said Jonathan Peraza-Campos.

Late Thursday night, a member of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition told Atlanta News First that there will still be one more vote to approve the entire standards in July. Our news team is still waiting on the commission to confirm this.