UNITED STATES NEWS

Tennessee educators file lawsuit challenging law limiting school lessons on race, sex and bias

Jul 26, 2023, 10:26 AM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A school field trip to the National Civil Rights Museum was replaced with a trip to a baseball game. A choir director was terrified of teaching the history behind spirituals sung by enslaved people. A teacher spent months in administrative proceedings over objections to state-approved curriculum.

Nearly two years after Tennessee’s GOP-dominated Statehouse passed wide-sweeping bans on teaching certain concepts of race, gender and bias in classrooms, educators have pushed back by sharing their experiences under the law in a new federal lawsuit challenging its legality.

The 52-page lawsuit filed Wednesday not only questions the ban’s constitutionality but also details the stress felt by educators across the state as they attempt to comply with the new restrictions without limiting or harming students’ learning.

“The ban poses an imminent threat to teachers in public K-12 classrooms in Tennessee,” the lawsuit states, adding that teachers face potential termination, license revocation and “reputational damage for teaching lessons they have taught for years.”

The Tennessee Education Association filed the lawsuit along with a group of five educators. The state’s Department of Education and State Board of Education are named as defendants. A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, which represents both state entities, said it had not yet received the challenge and could not comment.

In sparring that resembled similar discussions in other GOP-led statehouses, some of the most contentious debates during Tennessee’s 2021 legislative session revolved around what teachers should and should not say about race, gender and other concepts inside their classrooms.

Most of the majority-white GOP House and Senate caucuses supported the effort, with the sponsors arguing that the bill was needed to protect young minds from being indoctrinated with certain social concepts. Primarily, lawmakers objected to any potential teachings on critical race theory — a term that’s become a stand-in for concepts like systemic racism and implicit bias — but also made sure to ban other concepts on sex and bias.

Black Democratic lawmakers warned that it would make teachers fearful about telling students anything about how race and racism shaped United States history but ultimately were shut down.

After a flurry of last minute changes, the Republican supermajority settled on banning 14 concepts from being taught, including that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”

Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed it into law a few weeks later after previously saying students should learn “the exceptionalism of our nation,” not things that “inherently divide” people.

Under the law, “impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history” is still permitted, and limits on teacher speech don’t apply in response to a student’s question or referring to a historical figure or group.

However, the penalty for a transgression is steep: The state education commissioner can withhold funds from any school found to be in violation and teachers could be stripped of their licenses.

According to the lawsuit, a teacher in eastern Tennessee’s Blount County endured a monthslong investigation into whether she violated the law after a parent filed a complaint during the 2021-2022 school year over a lesson on the 1975 novel “Dragonwings.” The book tells the story from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy who immigrated from China to California and touches on the challenges, particularly racial prejudices, that immigrants face coming to the United States.

Although the book had been approved by the Department of Education and the State Board of Education, the complaint alleged that the teacher had violated the 2021 “prohibited concepts” law because the novel promoted “racism and an anti-American agenda.” When the school determined the teacher hadn’t broken the law, the parent appealed to the state Education Department. That process, the lawsuit says, required the teacher to spend more than 40 hours defending her work and being interviewed by state officials.

The department also cleared the teacher of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the Blount County school district removed the novel from its curriculum.

Over in Tipton County, just outside of Memphis, a teacher said that her school used to offer field trips to the National Civil Rights Museum but has stopped after the ban’s passage. Instead, students can go to a baseball game.

Other examples included in the lawsuit detail teachers nervous to hold classroom discussions on Chinese New Year, Frida Kahlo and the novel “1984” by George Orwell.

“Laws need to be clear. The prohibited concepts law conflicts with the state’s own academic standards and curriculum, which creates unfair risks to Tennessee teachers using state approved materials, following state standards, and providing fact-based instruction,” Tennessee Education Association President Tanya Coats said in a statement. “Educators have already spent countless hours trying to understand and navigate the law’s unclear requirements.”

The teachers are asking the court block the state from enforcing the law and declare it unconstitutional for violating the 14th Amendment.

United States News

Associated Press

Man in custody after 4 found dead in Brooklyn apartment attack, NYPD says

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department says it has taken a man into custody in connection with the deaths of a grandmother, a mother and her two children in the family’s Brooklyn apartment. Police said in a statement Saturday that officers responded to a report late Friday night of an assault, and […]

15 minutes ago

Passengers wait at Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City, Friday, July 19, 2024. Some...

Associated Press

8.5 million computers running Windows affected by faulty update from CrowdStrike

As the world continues to recover from massive business and travel disruptions caused by a faulty software update from cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, malicious actors are trying to exploit the situation for their own gain. Government cybersecurity agencies across the globe and even CrowdStrike CEO George Kurtz are warning businesses and individuals around the world about […]

2 hours ago

FILE - This April 18, 2024, photo released by the Utah Department of Corrections shows death row in...

Associated Press

Utah scraps untested lethal drug combination for man’s August execution

Utah officials said Saturday that they are scrapping plans to use an untested lethal drug combination in next month’s planned execution of a man in a 1998 murder case. They will instead seek out a drug that’s been used previously in executions in numerous states. Defense attorneys for Taberon Dave Honie, 49, had sued in […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Plane crash near Ohio airport kills 3; federal authorities investigating

VIENNA, Ohio (AP) — A plane trying to make an emergency landing at an airport in northeastern Ohio crashed, killing all three people aboard, authorities said. The Federal Aviation Administration said Saturday that the twin-engine Beechcraft 60 went down near the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Ohio at about 6:45 p.m. Friday. The Ohio State Highway […]

4 hours ago

Firefighters battle a fire at First Baptist Dallas church on Friday, July 19, 2024, in Dallas. (Chi...

Associated Press

A fire severely damages the historic First Baptist Dallas church sanctuary

A fire all but destroyed the historic church sanctuary at First Baptist Dallas, sending smoke billowing over the city but causing no deaths or injuries, Dallas firefighters said. The fire in the Texas Historic Landmark, a Victorian-style red brick church built in 1890, was reported about 6:30 p.m. Friday, and contained about three hours later, […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

New Hampshire Gov. Sununu signs bill banning transgender girls from girls’ sports

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Republican Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire has signed a bill that would ban transgender athletes in grades 5-12 from teams that align with their gender identity, adding the state to nearly half in the nation that adopted similar measures. The bill passed by the Republican-led Legislature would require schools to […]

7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinic visits boost student training & community health

Going to a Midwestern University Clinic can help make you feel good in more ways than one.

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Tennessee educators file lawsuit challenging law limiting school lessons on race, sex and bias