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April 21, 2024 9:12 am

Local News

Public to Get Limited Chance to Comment Before Vote to Remove ‘Woke’ Words From K-12 Lesson Plans

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by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission, a governor-appointed body whose roles include setting rules for Georgia’s teacher training programs, is set to meet Thursday afternoon to vote on a new batch of changes. But some educators say they have not had an opportunity to sound off on the latest proposal to remove so-called woke words from teachers’ lesson books.

“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,” said Mikayla Arciaga, Georgia advocacy director and education policy fellows coordinator for the Intercultural Development Research Association.

Commission Program Director Anne Marie Fenton confirmed that commissioners will not be present at Thursday’s meeting, but those wanting to speak will need to be present in a downtown Atlanta board room.

“Each speaker will have up to three minutes to speak,” she said. “If there are more than 25 individuals requesting to give oral comment, we plan to do our best to accommodate.”

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.

For example, one change would instruct teachers to promote the value of “fairness” rather than the values of “equity, social justice, community and diversity.” The proposals would apply to positions including elementary education and reading and literacy specialists, who teach up to grade 12, as well as educational leaders like principals and superintendents.

The commission has argued that the changes came at the request of the University System of Georgia, which reported that words like diversity, equity and inclusion have taken on additional meaning in recent years and eliminating them would make teaching easier. 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.

Last month’s meeting drew a record amount of public input, according to commissioners. Arciaga said her group alone was responsible for more than 6,200 emails between May 9 and May 12, and she is expecting a big response ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

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.

“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 Georgia Professional Standards Commission meeting is set for 4 p.m. at its downtown Atlanta office on Thursday, June 8, and a link to the stream is available on the commission’s website.

This story was written by Ross Williams, a reporter at the Georgia Recorder, where this story first appeared.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.