The Gold Dome at the Georgia State Capitol is featured on April 4, 2022. (Photo: Itoro N. Umontuen/The Atlanta Voice)

ATLANTA (AP) – New rules for Georgia’s public school teachers would remove the words “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion” from education program standards.

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission voted without discussion Thursday to delete those words and references to so-called “ambiguous terms” from rules that guide colleges and programs that train educators. The latest changes, which go into effect July 1, are among a series of steps legislators and policymakers have taken in Georgia and beyond to rid schools of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“It’s a travesty,” said DeKalb County teacher Chris Andrews moments after the meeting. “Without some sort of diversity, equity, inclusion training, or even mention thereof, are we even able to interact with each other in effective ways? “

Commission chairman Brian Sirmans said the rule changes came about after the University System of Georgia asked the commission to “remove or simplify words that in recent years have taken on multiple and unintended meanings.”

Teachers colleges are still expected to prepare future educators who are “well- equipped to address the learning needs of all students,” he added.

Commission members attended the meeting virtually, their cameras off during the roughly hour-long public hearing. Anne Marie Fenton, director of rules management and educator assessment, told the newspaper the meeting was scheduled to be virtual, which is why the commissioners participated online. However, members of the public who wanted to comment were made to do so in person.

“The in-person speaking requirement helps ensure a secure oral hearing,” Fenton said in an email, adding that it “provides additional logistical control and assurances” that the hearing will be well-managed.

Opponents to the proposed changes told commissioners over and over that “words matter.”

“Replacing the word diverse with words like different and unique implies that there is a norm. A sameness which excludes those who do not fit in,” said Sarah Hunt-Blackwell, First Amendment policy advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

She added: “By removing DEI training requirements, this body turns a blind eye to students’ academic, psychological and emotional needs.”