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Group of students drive to Atlanta to speak out about ‘divisive concepts’ bill but not allowed

Published: Mar. 29, 2022 at 7:12 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - A group of more than a dozen high school students drove more than 4 hours from Atlanta to Savannah speak to Georgia lawmakers about a “divisive concepts” bill Monday. Instead of being able to speak out against the bill, the students were told there was not time left in the meeting for their comments.

The bill would stop some teachings about race and racism from happening in local schools. In particular, HB 1084 would ban teaching that Georgia or the United States are inherently racist or other ‘divisive concepts.’

“We don’t want to encourage children to be pitted against each other,” said the bill’s sponsor.

The students arrived at the State Capitol at 9am Monday for the 3pm meeting. After waiting in the hearing for an hour, the students were told they could not speak and things became heated.

“Georgia students will remember this,” one student from Georgia State University exclaimed as Senate Education Chairman Chuck Payne tried to have the students be acknowledged by simply standing.

“Excuse me, we are having a meeting,” the chairman explained as the students and an advisor interjected.

“I don’t care. This is the second time you have done this!,” the student yelled as Payne asked him to maintain order. “We don’t have time. We called the question so we are moving on,” the Payne said.

“We signed up well in advance. There were 12 people who wanted to oppose it,” Madeline Pelli a 12th grade student from Savannah.

Instead they were asked to stand to be acknowledged and told there was not time for them to speak.

15-year-old Leroy Spann was sitting on the front row of the committee meeting.

“Representatives and senators always say they want the kids perspectives so kids came down and they denied our perspectives,” Spann told CBS46.

Spann and his peers came back to the capitol Tuesday to speak out about being silenced.

“How long has it been since any one of you have been inside of a high school history class because for me it was last Friday,” said Savannah high school student Jalen Conner during the press conference with Senate Democrats who sat on the committee. “Reading through what is supposed to be a divisive concept it occurred to me how absolutely absurd these concepts were.”

Pelli said she did not like the ban on divisive topics because it is vague and limits what they can learn as students. “in school we are supposed to be taught about critical thinking in all aspects. It you read something and you don’t like it that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about it. You should learn about things you feel comfortable and uncomfortable with,” she told CBS46.

Sen Lester Jackson was in the committee and said Tuesday, “the Georgia Senate did these students a disservice.”

CBS46 reached out to the Chairman Payne’s office to ask why at least one student was not allowed to speak. While he said in the meeting that there was not enough time for public comment, he did not respond to request for comment on Tuesday.