A Georgia commission voted Wednesday to remove the definition for diversity in teacher training. Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images
The members of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, which oversees educator training rules, have been getting a lot of emails ahead of the Thursday meeting in which they voted unanimously to remove references to diversity from Georgia’s teacher standards.
“I’m sorry to flood you with emails today,” said Commissioner Jordan Frobos.
Frobos was speaking to administrative assistant Renee Shaat before the virtual meeting, when the commissioners presumably did not know they were being recorded.
“Yeah, we’re sorry that happened,” said Executive Director Matt Arthur. “After this meeting, I think you all can quit sending them. Renee is going to send something out, but just delete them.”
“Well, I’m going to say I have not forwarded mine because it was just so many,” said Commissioner Jimmy Atkins. “I have not had time to even think about trying to do it.“
“Well, I had not been doing it, but they mentioned it at our committee meeting yesterday to do that, so I started doing it after that,” Frobos said.
“And I mean, there’s no creativity in the emails,” added Atkins. “It’s just, they’re copy and pasting the same email just from different individuals.”
“What I did was set up a filter,” said Commissioner Brandon Seigler. “I set up a filter because they kept using the same subject line and all the filters, I just funneled it into a different folder and that way (I) didn’t have to look at all of them.”
“Great idea,” Shaat said.
Shortly after that conversation, Commission Chair Brian Sirmans called the meeting to order. One of the first orders of business was to vote on the change removing the diversity definition. A slew of other similar language changes is scheduled for the commission’s June meeting.
Sirmans said the changes came at the request of the University System of Georgia and are intended to remove words that “have taken on multiple and unintended meanings” but not change the care teachers show for their students.
“We still expect educator preparation programs to prepare educators who are well equipped to address the learning needs of all students that they may encounter, and who are well prepared to meet the students where they are within a positive and welcoming learning environment,” he said.
Frobos asked her fellow commissioners where all the negativity was coming from:
“This is the first time I’ve received so much of an outpouring to vote no on anything, and I don’t really know who to address it to specifically, but what do you think the misconception is among the educators that they felt so strongly with this? Because I don’t see the harm, but I’m just wondering, from their eyes, through their lens, what is the misconception?
“I always hesitate to speak on behalf of other people, my guess is that there is a misperception that by changing the wording, we are changing the intent,” said Educator Preparation Division Director Penney L. McRoy. “And that is not the case. The intent is still, it has been and it will remain, that our educator preparation programs prepare educators who are well equipped, well prepared to meet the needs of each and every child, all students. That is not changing. We are simply changing some words.”
That argument did not convince Ogechi Oparah, a middle school social studies teacher.
“I think what we say and what we do not say is a statement of what we value. When a celebration of diversity or when considerations of equity and inclusion are not even considered the minimum bar, when we shy away from them, they’re already saying that it’s not important. And as a teacher, I know that it is. I see it every day in my classroom. We’re asking our teachers to go in more blindly by not being specific and clear about what we need to be prepared for when we go into the classroom each day,” Oparah said.
Oparah and other Georgia teachers spoke with reporters after the meeting in a virtual conference hosted by the Georgia Coalition for Education Justice.
Teachers at the conference said acknowledging students’ cultural differences as well as their gender, disability and racial differences helps teachers connect with students and results in better learning.
“This is taking us a step further back from where we have came forward from,” said Deidra Wright, a high school English teacher. “Diversity is real. It’s a real thing. And if we are sent to prepare these kids to be competitive in a global economy, we need to teach them how to operate from a space of empathy and how to operate collectively. And we can only do that if we recognize differences and if we prepare our teachers to recognize differences from an authentic space.”
Mikayla Arciaga with the Georgia Coalition for Education Justice said the public comment period for the next set of proposed changes will last through May 23, and commissioners should expect to get a lot more feedback ahead of the June 8 meeting.
“This affects all certified educators in the state,” she said. “That’s all of our social media specialists or media specialists, librarians, school counselors, administrators, all of those people have an impact on school culture. And if we walk away from that, we are making our schools less welcoming, less safe for our students and our educators. So, yes, we will be coordinating a response to the additional rule changes that are proposed.”
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