Forsyth County students worked with organizations across metro Atlanta to hold a protest outside of the Georgia Board of Education on Thursday, June 17, speaking out against the politicization of diversity and equity programs within Georgia’s school systems.
Students for DEI, a local organization of students in support of Forsyth County Schools’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, helped to organize the protest alongside leaders with Students Against Sonny, a similar activism group working against the appointment of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as chancellor of the University System of Georgia.
The local group was cofounded by FCS graduates Katy Gates and Emma Marzullo, who have also spoken in support of the school system’s DEI plan at recent Forsyth County Board of Education meetings.
The two wrote in a statement that the protest held outside of the Georgia Board of Education during its regular meeting Thursday morning was meant to help amplify student voices and let state education leaders know that students support the implementation of diversity and inclusion initiatives within their school systems.
“The narrative of a culture war is false — our students deserve an education uncolored by politicians' agendas, an education with accurate history and free speech on important subjects like race and equality,” the statement reads.
This protest came in light of a national conversation surrounding Critical Race Theory, a scholarly body of work that suggests racism is embedded in all facets of American life. Citizens from throughout the nation and Georgia have spoken out against the application of CRT within staff training or curriculums within school districts.
In the past month, however, citizens have used CRT in reference to other programs and initiatives such as DEI, implicit bias training and anti-racism efforts.
Recently, the governor-appointed Georgia Board of Education passed a resolution banning CRT and similar concepts from being taught to students and teachers within the state’s public schools. The education boards in Cobb and Cherokee counties have also passed similar resolutions.
Students and educators from Fulton, Cobb, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties all gathered outside of the state board’s meeting Thursday morning, many of them protesting against the resolution and for further DEI education within their schools.
Two students from Denmark High School spoke alongside protestors, sharing their experience with discrimination within FCS and why they believe DEI training and education would create a kinder, safer environment for the county’s students.
Rising senior Aryani Duppada began by referring to her speech during the Forsyth County Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, June 15. When she finished speaking and stepped away from the podium, an audience member yelled out that she had been “indoctrinated.”
Duppada said remarks such as that, along with those saying racism does not exist in Forsyth County, simply seek to invalidate her own experiences as a student in FCS.
“I have been asked if I was illegal,” Duppada said. “Imagine your kid being asked that …. Imagine a little brown kid hearing, ‘Do you have a gun with you?’ or ‘Are you going to blow up the school?’ coming from their friends. They say it’s just jokes, but it’s not jokes.”
By implementing DEI programs in schools, Duppada said students and teachers alike can learn to understand the different “barriers” people face in life, and together, they can work to take down those barriers and ensure students do not face these same barriers in the future.
“We don’t want to make anyone feel bad about themselves, and in no way are we saying that white people don’t have barriers,” Duppada said. “We’re saying to teach history the right way so we can all be educated moving forward and make sure the same mistakes aren’t made again.”
Denmark student James Liming agreed with Duppada, repeating that DEI and similar programs are meant to educate others, not shame them. As a gay, transgender student in FCS, Liming said the program and staff training could help teachers learn more about how to help their LGBTQ students.
In his years in FCS, he said teachers have misgendered him, and he still uses the staff restrooms because he feels uncomfortable using the girls’ restroom at school.
Overall, Liming believes the DEI plan in Forsyth could help solve issues such as these, and he said the plan could go even further to include lessons for students surrounding prominent LGBTQ figures in the country’s history, “so that [LGBTQ] children can actually feel like they have a future.”
While residents of Forsyth County have spoken out against the DEI plan during board meetings in the last month, Board of Education Chair Kristin Morrissey announced Tuesday that the board will be keeping the plan in place.
She explained that feedback from stakeholders is important to each board member and the school system, and they will keep their feedback in mind when reevaluating the district’s five-year strategic plan, which includes the DEI plan, next year.
Other than Students for DEI and Students Against Sonny, representatives from several activist groups from throughout metro Atlanta spoke alongside Forsyth’s students at the protest, which took place from 9 to 11 a.m.
Later in the month, groups plan to continue with protests near the Governor's Mansion in Buckhead.
Several activists in the group reminded others that state board members are appointed by the governor. They also asked everyone to look out for local elections and races related to positions in education.
For more information about Students for DEI, visit their Instagram page @s4dei.ga.