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Teachers association challenges Tennessee education department’s race curriculum restrictions in federal lawsuit

A teachers association in Tennessee has taken legal action against the state education department’s restrictions on curriculum related to race and gender in public schools.

The Tennessee Education Association, along with five Tennessee public school educators, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state policy that prohibits certain concepts from being included in curriculum, programs, or supplemental materials. They argue that this policy complicates how students learn about “controversial” subjects like slavery, the Holocaust, and 9/11.

Tanya T. Coats, the President of the Tennessee Education Association, stated, “There is no group more dedicated to ensuring Tennessee students receive a high-quality education than public school educators. This law interferes with Tennessee teachers’ duty to provide a fact-based, well-rounded education to their students.”

In 2021, Tennessee implemented restrictions on how racism, privilege, and oppression can be taught in classrooms as part of a conservative-led movement to limit so-called “divisive” content. The law mandates an “impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history” and “impartial instruction on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region.” It also forbids teaching the concept that “an individual, based on race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, consciously or subconsciously,” and that “a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.” Governor Bill Lee’s press secretary, Casey Black, said that Lee believes history and civics should be taught with facts, not divisive political commentary.

Similar restrictions have been implemented in other states like Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The lawsuit argues that the ban deprives Tennessee’s public-school students of crucial information, ideas, and skills essential for civic education in a democratic system. Critics of the policies describe the requirements as “vague” and “subjective,” claiming they infringe on teachers’ ability to teach certain subjects. The lawsuit highlights the potential negative impact, including termination, license revocation, and reputational damage, on educators who may face enforcement proceedings under the ambiguous standards. This threat has affected field trips and answering students’ questions about critical issues, according to the lawsuit.

Supporters of the restrictions contend that certain lessons on race and oppression shame and guilt children based on their race, thus dividing students.

In response to the lawsuit, Rep. John Ragan, who sponsored the House bill, emphasized the need to reject identity politics peddlers to create a better tomorrow for Tennessee.