Teaching about Juneteenth in Georgia proves challenging under state’s ‘divisive concepts’ law

Corinthia Howard Knight teaches American Government at Atlanta's Frederick Douglass High School. She says Georgia's new 'divisive concepts' law won't keep her from discussing race with her students. (Kaitlin Kolarik/WABE)

We’ve seen our usual host of Atlanta celebrations and historical events celebrating the Juneteenth holiday, which traditionally falls on June 19th and commemorates the emancipation of Black Americans.

It became a federal holiday in 2021.

But one thing that’s changed over the last few years in Georgia is a statewide ban on K-12 public schools teaching so-called “divisive concepts.” That went into effect in July of 2022 and now restricts how teachers can discuss race and racism in classrooms. That includes the idea that the United States of America is fundamentally racist.

The Georgia Department of Education does not require students to learn in-depth about the nation’s newest federal holiday.

The only mention of Juneteenth is in the Kindergarten-level U.S. History curriculum standards.

It’s labeled “Juneteenth National Independence Day,” where students need to be able to “describe the people and/or events celebrated.”

Tucker High School social studies teacher Kevin Mooney sat down with WABE’s “Morning Edition” to discuss how he addresses Juneteenth with his students, who are learning at a higher level and want more than a bare minimum understanding.

Mooney also weighs in on the challenges of answering questions about a holiday like Juneteenth in public schools without violating the new state law.