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Teachers union sues Tennessee education department over race education restrictions

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(NEW YORK) — A teachers union in Tennessee has filed a federal lawsuit against the state education department’s restrictions on curriculum regarding race and gender in public schools.


The Tennessee Education Association and five Tennessee public school educators behind the lawsuit believe the Tennessee policy that bans certain concepts from being included in curriculum, programs or supplemental materials complicates how students learn about “controversial” subjects such as slavery, the Holocaust, 9/11 and more.

“There is no group of individuals more passionate and committed to ensuring Tennessee students receive a high-quality education than public school educators,” said Tanya T. Coats, a Knox County educator and Tennessee Education Association President. “This law interferes with Tennessee teachers’ job to provide a fact-based, well-rounded education to their students.”

In 2021, Tennessee restricted how lessons on racism, privilege, and oppression can be taught in classrooms amid a conservative-led movement to restrict so-called “divisive” content from classrooms.

The law requires an “impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history” as well as “impartial instruction on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region.”

It also prohibits teaching the concept that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously” and the concept that “a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.”

Gov. Bill Lee’s press secretary Casey Black said Lee “believes Tennessee students should be taught history and civics with facts, not divisive political commentary,” in a statement on the bill signing to The Tennessean.

Tennessee is one of several states to implement such restrictions, alongside Florida, Oklahoma, Texas and more.

“The Ban thus deprives Tennessee’s public-school students of the information, ideas, and skills — analytical thinking, reasoned analysis, historical understanding, debate — that are central to any concept of civic education in a democratic system,” the lawsuit read.

Critics of the policies call the requirements “vague” and “subjective” and say they infringe on teachers’ ability to teach certain subjects.

“Tennessee educators have been faced with the threat that a student or parent will trigger an enforcement proceeding under the Ban’s ill-defined standards, resulting in termination, license revocation, and reputational damage, for teaching lessons they have taught for years,” the lawsuit says.

It claims that such a threat has impacted “field trips to sites of great historical importance, and answering students’ questions about some of the most consequential issues they, and our nation, face,” the lawsuit reads.

Supporters of such policies have said certain lessons on race and oppression shame and guilt children based on their race and these lessons divide students.

“To make tomorrow better than today for Tennessee, we as legislators and citizens must take a stand against hucksters, charlatans and useful idiots peddling identity politics,” said Rep. John Ragan, who sponsored the House bill, according to news organization Chalkbeat Tennessee.

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