"Education is a right, this is why we have to fight!" was one of the many chants that could be heard as high school students from across Metro Atlanta marched past the Georgia State Capitol last Friday, February 25, 2022. They came together from different schools and different backgrounds to stand united against the latest round of "classroom censorship" bills currently being considered in the Georgia General Assembly. The students in attendance represented Decatur High School, Druid Hills High School, DeKalb School of the Arts and North Atlanta High School (just to name a few). While they came from different places, they all came with one clear message: "HANDS OFF OUR EDUCATION!" This protest comes on the heels of a rally held at the Capitol on Sunday, February 20, 2022, spearheaded by various community and teacher organizations.
Hands Off Georgia is the group started by Decatur High School students Ana Villavasso and Vinessa Taylor, to organize students against House Bill 1084 and Senate Bills 375 and 377. The bills are collectively called "classroom censorship" bills by many critics and those who oppose them. They are all intended to limit classroom discussions of race and systematic racism in Georgia Public Schools. the summary of HB 1024 is " A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Title 20 of the O.C.G.A., relating to education, so as to prevent the use of and reliance upon curricula or training programs which act upon, promote, or encourage certain concepts, with exceptions; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes."
It reads in part:
"(1.) To amend Title 20 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to education, so as to (2.) prevent the use of and reliance upon curricula or training programs which act upon, promote, (3.) or encourage certain concepts, with exceptions; to provide for such exceptions; to require (4.) local boards of education, local school superintendents, and the governing bodies of charter (5.) schools to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race; to require that curricula and training (6.) programs shall encourage such employees not to judge others based on race; to provide for (7.) statutory construction; to provide for complaint resolution policies and procedures; to (8.) provide for promulgation of a model policy by the State Board of Education; to provide for (9.) guidance to schools and local school systems by the Department of Education; to provide for (10.) a process by which certain individuals shall have access to certain records; to provide for (11.) penalties; to prohibit certain waivers; to prohibit basing certification and classification of (12.) certain professional personnel upon completion of training programs which act upon, (13.) promote, or encourage certain concepts; to prohibit certain performance standards and the (14.) code of ethics for educators to require completion of training programs which act upon, (15.) promote, or encourage certain concepts; to provide for definitions; to provide for a short title; (16.) to provide for construction; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for (17.) other purposes." Read the full bill here:https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/61477.
The students in attendance were not afraid to vocalize their opposition to the bills that potentially effect the way they learn. "I came because I am going to school (college) to become an Educator, and I want to be able to teach [my] kids proper history," said Kenya Freeman, a Senior at Decatur High School. Ana Villavasso, also from Decatur High School, expressed her sentiment that stifling conversations about systematic racism in the United States stymies the growth and educational potential of students. She said emphatically, “Let those representatives know that their place is not in a classroom, especially if they’re not educators. We need American history. It’s the history of people of color — not only Black history but all people of color.” The students were supported by a number of youth activists, among them was Yana Batra of the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition. Yana addressed the crowd of more than 300 students, reminding them that they are the future of Georgia, and that it's their voices and their votes that will change the course of politics as we know it. Legislators, including Representatives Billy Mitchell (HD-88), Becky Evans (HD-83) and Mary Margaret Oliver (who represents the district wherein Decatur High School lies, HD-82), also showed up in support of the students and their action. Each Representative encouraged the students to continue to show up and make their voices heard on the issues that affect them.
Hands Off Georgia is a youth-led organization that was formed with the intention of empowering students toward civic engagement. To find out more about their efforts, please visit https://handsoffgeorgia.carrd.co/.
Reported by Keyanna Jones