Forsyth County Board of Education Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey announced that the board will continue to “stand behind the need to have a [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] plan,” within the school system after hearing opinions on the plan from 34 speakers at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
The scheduled June meeting was the second time in the past month that board members have heard from individuals in the community, some who support the plan and some who oppose its implementation within the school system.
More than 20 speakers came to the board’s previous meeting on May 15, and even more came to show others support, filling up the conference room and hall outside. Although the board was greeted by a smaller crowd Tuesday, speakers and community onlookers filled the conference room seats.
Speakers began showing up at the building at around 3 p.m. — three hours before the official start of the meeting. Many of the speakers gathered outside to practice their speeches and enjoy food and drinks before the start of the meeting while others went inside to guarantee themselves a seat for the night.
After the board had heard from each speaker, Morrissey said that the board will take into consideration feedback they have received when reviewing their five-year strategic plan next year.
“The board has heard what you’ve had to say,” Morrissey said. “Over the years, we’ve made our decisions based on community input, and we value that. Our stakeholders mean a lot. They helped shape our strategic plan that helped get us to where we’re at.”
While they will continue to hear feedback from community members, the school district and board have noted that they will not be discontinuing the DEI plan. Morrissey said they believe it is needed for the students and staff members.
“We are not perfect, but we stand behind our need to be very inclusive in our community,” Morrissey said. “And we want all of our students to be welcomed and belong. We will continue to work with that, and we will make sure our materials are appropriate. But we also want to make sure our students are valued and our teachers are valued, so we stand behind our plan.”
While residents and students filed out of the conference room before the continuation of the board’s regular meeting, many shared they would still be reaching out and offering feedback on the plan to their board members.
Meanwhile, some said they hope that the board continues to reflect on what all was shared with them during Tuesday’s meeting.
- School leaders discuss work, future changes with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan
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- Board of Education says Forsyth County Schools ‘does not and will not teach’ Critical Race Theory in statement
What supporters of the DEI had to say
Supporters of the plan were the first to speak during the public comments section, beginning with FCS graduates Emma Marzullo and Katy Gates. The two also spoke at the last meeting after beginning Students for DEI, an organized group of students in support of diversity programs not only in Forsyth County Schools, but also in school systems across Georgia.
This time around, the two students spoke on those in opposition of the plan, some of whom have been vocal online and through a private Facebook group called Concerned Parents of Forsyth County, Ga.
“I’ve witnessed personally the unkind words that these very parents in the audience have espoused toward myself and my fellow students, branding us as stupid, naive children who have been indoctrinated by ill-meaning adults around us,” Gates said. “I can only speak for myself, but I know that my parents, while supportive of my endeavors, have never pressured me to get involved in social issues.
“In fact, sometimes they’ve urged me to take a step back out of concern for my mental and physical health, worried that people who oppose the words and actions of an outspoken little girl will do something more harmful than making a couple of rude comments on the internet. They shouldn’t have to worry.”
Gates reminded board members and those in attendance that the DEI plan is “not meant to indoctrinate all students,” but instead create an environment within schools where parents, students and staff can feel safe and accepted. She spoke of a kinder world that she said can only be achieved by learning from others who “look, think and act differently than us.”
She asked that the board, when re-evaluating the plan, not base decisions on the opinions of misinformed parents and residents within the county. Marzullo, currently a junior at the University of Georgia, also asked that the board hold a town hall meeting to answer questions about the DEI plan to try to stop the spread of misinformation online.
Suba Senthil, a recent graduate of Denmark High School, also spoke in favor of the DEI, letting them know about her own experiences in the county.
“Here is the story of a young girl who found it a little hard to be different in Forsyth County,” Senthil said. “One who, as a child, told her parents she didn’t want to eat the food they made because the kids at school during lunch told her it was weird. Whose parents cooked with love, but she tended to prefer lunchables to their ‘gross’ ethnic food.”
Senthil was just one of several students who shared they had witnessed or experienced discrimination within the county and school system, pointing to the plan as a solution to get away from these rude and insensitive remarks made by peers and teachers.
She also, like many supporters in the past two months, said the issue of diversity and inclusion is a nonpartisan one, but as the more than 20 individuals who oppose the plan took the stand Tuesday night, some began to refute this idea.
What those in opposition had to say
Resident Ed Solly said the statement is simply what the students have been told to think.
“They are going to stand in front of a politically-elected body, give their speech filled with talking points given to them by the Democrat party while wearing purple because the activist told them to, all to tell you that Republicans are wrong. And the first thing they’ll say is this is not political,” Solly said.
While leaders with the Forsyth County Georgia Democrats have helped to amplify student voices in recent weeks, the group explained in a statement that they did not push students to speak at the meeting nor did they influence their speeches.
According to the statement, Solly's speech to the board "does a disservice to the youth who initiated every call to action, every letter writing campaign and every press release. These young people are truly remarkable self starters, and their bravery, eloquence and courage is lightyears ahead of many adults who were present in that meeting room."
Hunter Hill, chairman of the Forsyth County Republican Party, who also spoke at the board’s previous meeting, agreed with Solly's earlier sentiment, saying the issue has become more political than ever before.
He, along with many at the meeting, believe that the DEI plan is simply a different name for Critical Race Theory, which says all facets of American life are rooted in discriminatory systems.
“Teachers should be teaching,” Hill said. “Parents should be parenting. And students should be living apolitical, fun, free-living lives. But unfortunately, it seems that the age of reason is coming to a conclusion. Many wear masks before us without any scientific backing to do so. Sadly, the way we’ve raised our children over the last decades has changed drastically. There is very rarely any face-to-face interaction with them. We’ve ignored mental health, we’ve ignored anxiety, we’ve ignored suicides. We’ve ignored depressions that have skyrocketed in our youth.”
“And I feel like we’re taking a one-size-fits-all trojan horse band-aid, and we’re placing it on something that is a very complicated issue. As you can see, there are many parents, students and patriots behind me who have concerns, and I guarantee we will one day come to the center of the table and get these concerns addressed.”
Bobby Donnelly, chairman of the Forsyth County Tea Party, also spoke to the board for the second time as one of the last speakers of the night. During the last meeting, he told the board he felt the community’s Republican values were not being represented in the school system.
He followed up with this sentiment at this month’s meeting, noting that the majority of participating voters in Forsyth County voted in favor of Republican candidates in last year’s elections and this year’s runoff.
“This means we are a strong Republican county, and as it stands right now, Republican-primary voters are choosing our Board of Education,” Donnelly said.
He read from a resolution recently passed by the Georgia GOP, which opposed Critical Race Theory and the Social and Emotional Learning within school systems, pointing to current values among state Republicans.
District leaders said they will have more to share about the DEI plan after the start of the school year in the fall. The district does plan to re-evaluate its five-year strategic plan next year, but from this point, no major changes have been made to the DEI plan.
Those who missed the meeting on Tuesday and would like to watch all the feedback provided can find a video of the public comments section of the meeting on the FCS YouTube Channel. Community members can also find information on the district’s website at www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.
More information about the DEI program can also be found through the website.