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States Pass Laws Restricting How Teachers Can Discuss Racism

A seventh-grader walks by a Black History Month display at Sutton Middle School on her way to class.

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE. 

States Placing Legal Limits on How Educators Can Address Race

On the heels of Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, backing two bills aimed at blocking the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools—four states have now passed legislation that would limit how teachers can discuss racism and  sexism, among other topics. The legislation, passed so far in Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, bans teachers from introducing certain concepts, including that any individual is consciously or unconsciously racist or sexist because of their race or sex, and that anyone should feel discomfort or guilt because of their race or sex. A similar law also passed in Arkansas. In total, lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced bills that seek to restrict how teachers can discuss racism, sexism, and other social issues.

In Arizona, a bill that would fine teachers $5,000 for promoting one side of a controversial issue just passed the House. Texas lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban schools from giving course credit for internships in social or public policy advocacy, as well as limit how teachers discuss controversial issues; this bill has passed the House. In Missouri, proposed legislation would ban the use of specific resources, including the 1619 Project , Learning for Justice Curriculum of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Lives Matter at School, Teaching for Change, and the Zinn Education Project.

Opponents—including many teachers—say they fear such legislation will stifle discussion of how racism and sexism have shaped the country’s history and continue to effect it by threatening educators with the possibility of legal action. Scholars of critical race theory have said that the laws mischaracterize the framework . Underscoring this political battle is the action of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Trustees who took the highly unusual step of failing to approve the recommendation of the department of journalism to grant tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The New York Times Magazine who was integral to the 1619 Project.

The legislation, all introduced by Republican lawmakers, uses similar language to an executive order former President Trump put in place to ban diversity training for federal workers. The order has since been rescinded by President Biden.

For an update on anti-critical race theory state legislations, visit the blog article, Lawmakers Continue to Politicize Teaching About Racism.

Professional Development Opportunity

The Council for Exceptional Children and the Council for Administrators of Special Education are sponsoring the annual Special Education Legislative Summit (SELS). The convening will be held virtually the week of July 19-23.  It will feature town hall events with policy experts and Capitol Hill veterans, presentations by experts on key issues such as mental health and the shortage of special educators and opportunities to engage directly with your Congressional delegation. 

This event is free and open to the public. You can register here.

New Resources for Educators 

  • Education Week is out with a special report highlighting the need for change in teacher preparation programs as a result of remote learning. Teachers may now need a unique skillset that is not commonly addressed in many current teacher preparation programs.
  • The 74 is taking an early look at how school districts plan to spend the American Rescue Plan Act dollars – early reporting suggests a lack of emphasis on learning recovery.
  • The disability advocacy organization Understood is out with a new report examining how schooling changes, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, have led to behavioral concerns for many elementary school students.
  • The Learning Policy Institute released a new blog article, as part of their series on Education and the Path to Equity, that looks at Brown v. Board of Education and the promise of federal policy.

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. Follow us on Twitter  @janewestdc and @brennan_kait.

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Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant