When Denmark High School graduate Ritika Sharma first heard that community members planned to speak against the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan within Forsyth County Schools at the Board of Education meeting in May, she was shocked.
“Why would you be against diversity?” Sharma wondered.
That was when she found a newly-created group, Students for DEI, where she joined founders and FCS graduates Katy Gates and Emma Marzullo to help amplify student voices in the county and share their support of the district’s DEI plan.
Four of the students in the group, including Gates and Marzullo, were among some of the most impassioned speakers at the last Board of Education meeting, and they promised to continue their efforts to keep DEI in FCS following the meeting.
Most recently, Students for DEI invited community members to the Forsyth County Public Library on Post Road on Saturday, June 12, to write letters to board of education members showing their support for the plan.
“In these letters, we are offering positive support for DEI values,” said Marzullo, a junior at the University of Georgia and a 2020 Forsyth Central High School graduate.
“This includes creating an inclusive and welcoming learning environment for all students, hiring a diverse staff to represent and relate to the student body, training that staff to provide an equitable education to all their students, and having open, respectful and culturally aware conversations which celebrate diversity.”
A variety of students, parents and community members came to write a letter and show their support for DEI and the new student group, many of them saying they want to help in any way they can to make sure the support for DEI is heard by district leaders at this time.
Sharma also came to write a letter Saturday, explaining that she wouldn’t be able to make it to the next board meeting on Tuesday, June 15, to voice her support along with the rest of the group.
Suba Senthil, who just recently graduated from Denmark, said she came to write a letter because she feels student voices are important right now not only in Forsyth County, but across Georgia as conversations surrounding Critical Race Theory and diversity and inclusion become more frequent.
“I think our voices just need to be heard, and in any manner we can do that — whether it be a letter, showing up at the meeting, a protest — [is important], especially since no students [at the last meeting] were speaking against the DEI,” Senthil said. “Students are the people affected by this plan. Not your parents or homeschooled children. As much as we can show them that, we want to.”
Gates, who recently graduated from South Forsyth High School and plans to attend UGA, agreed that students are the ones mostly impacted in the decisions made from these conversations, and she believes students should always be a part of conversations such as the current one surrounding DEI.
“I think that, a lot of times, things like this happen because there is no organized pushback against it,” Gates said. “I think a lot of times, too, [people believe] that students aren’t necessarily engaged in their education as much as we are and that students aren’t engaged in what’s happening locally.
“It’s really important to show that we do care and are invested in our own education and we do understand what is happening. We do have our opinions different than those of our parents or different than maybe what some of our teachers have taught us.”
Outside of Forsyth County, Students for DEI has also partnered with students in counties throughout Georgia, collaborating on how they can help to keep programs and plans such as the one in Forsyth while school systems such as Cobb and Cherokee vote on resolutions banning Critical Race Theory.
Critical Race Theory is based on a scholarly body of work that suggests racism is embedded in all facets of American life, including schools. Many across Georgia and in the Forsyth community have argued that diversity programs within their schools are based on the theory.
The Georgia Board of Education also passed its own resolution last week, seeking to end the teaching of “divisive ideologies” in public school classrooms.
Students for DEI is planning to join students from across the state Thursday, June 17, for an organized protest outside of the Georgia Department of Education in Atlanta. They want to protest against the resolution and inspire education leaders in the state to further the conversation on school diversity programs.
Within the Forsyth community, students have already started preparing for the next Board of Education meeting Tuesday along with parents and residents who oppose the DEI plan. As of Monday afternoon, more than 30 community members were signed up to speak at the meeting.
In response to the last meeting, board members released a statement late last month, letting community members know that, “Forsyth County Schools does not and will not teach, nor promote, Critical Race Theory.”
“We teach the Georgia Standards of Excellence. We will continue to work with our staff and students to be sure all voices are heard and respected as we build leaders for success with strong character as stated in our Learner Profile. Our district is committed to listening, learning, and leading so all students and their families are welcomed, included, and connected in the FCS family.”
Other than the statement released, FCS leaders said they have no further comment on the discussion surrounding the DEI plan at this time.
For more information about the DEI plan and about the meeting Tuesday, visit forsyth.k12.ga.us.