Educators march past the Georgia State Capitol while the last day of the legislative session is in session at Georgia State Capitol on Friday, June 26, 2020. The Educators for Black Lives March starts at 3 p.m. at Rosa L. Burney Park on Windsor Street south of downtown. Organizers plan brief stops outside the city jail, the headquarters for Atlanta Public Schools, the Georgia Department of Education and Atlanta City Hall, before arriving at their destination: Liberty Plaza across the street from the Georgia State Capitol. 
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Educators march in Atlanta for Black Lives Matter, demand school reform

A new movement is blossoming from the frustration that has fed the Black Lives Matter movement: call it kids’ lives matter.

Education advocates who say they want to dismantle systemic racism in schools marched on the Georgia Gold Dome Friday as the 2020 legislative session draws to a close.

They want to harness the energy unleashed by outrage over the killing of Black people by police, and focus it on education, a core public service that can alter the destiny of children born to poverty.

“Kids’ lives matter,” said Brittany O’Neal, who teaches first grade and dreamed up the idea for this protest two or three weeks ago. She posted her proposal on social media and was soon joined by a coalition of advocates, including the group CivicGeorgia and individuals such as Claudine Miles, a former Atlanta charter school administrator turned educational consultant.

Educators march past Atlanta Public Schools Headquarters after they made a short stop on Friday, June 26, 2020. The Educators for Black Lives March starts at 3 p.m. at Rosa L. Burney Park on Windsor Street south of downtown. Organizers plan brief stops outside the city jail, the headquarters for Atlanta Public Schools, the Georgia Department of Education and Atlanta City Hall, before arriving at their destination: Liberty Plaza across the street from the Georgia State Capitol. 
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Their choice of the state Capitol as their destination was symbolic: they know it’s too late for changes in state law this year with the legislative session ending as they gather outside the home of the General Assembly. They hope to build awareness of systemic racism in schools and spark a movement for redress at every level, from school boards to Congress.

“We really believe there is power here to start a movement,” Miles said.

The group asked for, and received, support from several established organizations, including the Atlanta Coalition for Educational Equity, the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda and the NAACP.

Gerald Griggs, a leader of the Atlanta NAACP, will be marching. Race is embedded in the way schools police and test their students, he said. Griggs, who is an attorney, represented one of the educators who was accused in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating case.

"The country is awakening to the issues of systemic racism,” he said.

The Educators for Black Lives March started at 3 p.m. at Rosa L. Burney Park on Windsor Street south of downtown. Organizers plan brief stops outside the city jail, the headquarters for Atlanta Public Schools, the Georgia Department of Education and Atlanta City Hall, before arriving at their destination: Liberty Plaza across the street from the Georgia State Capitol.

Read Black Lives Matter statements from Atlanta school board, superintendent

The group has eight demands, some rooted in racial equity and others addressing broader educational issues, such as economic instability. 

They want: an end to “zero tolerance” disciplinary practices that have resulted in higher rates of suspension and expulsion of Black students, the hiring of more Black teachers and mandatory curriculum on Black history and ethnic studies "with a social justice lens."

Two demands are less clearly rooted in race though they could help address issues such as inequity in discipline: more counselors and more investment in "social-emotional" learning.
Three final demands affect all students: changes to the state educational funding formula with public input, state tests that are more "well-rounded" than “high-stakes” and so-called "wrap-around" services, which in Georgia have included everything from basic food and laundry assistance to substance abuse counseling.

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