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Gov. Lee signs bill with amendment that prohibits lessons on racial issues and racism

The bill allows state leaders to withhold funding for schools that teach lessons on racial issues, racism and other social issues.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Governor Bill Lee signed a bill on Tuesday that allows state leaders to withhold funding for schools that teach about social, cultural and legal issues related to race and racism. 

The bill, S.B. 0623, includes several routine policies for educators across Tennessee. An amendment introduced by Representative John Ragan (R - Oak Ridge) also includes a policy prohibiting schools from giving lessons on a series of 14 topics.

Spanish Version: Gob. Lee firma proyecto de ley con enmienda que prohíbe dar lecciones sobre temas raciales y racismo

The topics focus on racial issues, as well as power dynamics that could affect people in the U.S. Opponents of the bill said that some of the topics can be vague and difficult for teachers to follow.

It also prevents educators from discussing a common critique of meritocracy, which is a form of government supposing that people move into positions of power based on their abilities.

Those topics educators cannot cover are listed below: 

  • That one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex
  • That a person, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive — whether consciously or subconsciously
  • That a person should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of their race or sex
  • That a person's moral character is determined by their race or sex
  • That a person, by virtue of their race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex
  • That a person should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or another form of psychological distress because of their race or sex
  • That a meritocracy is inherently racist, sexist or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex
  • That Tennessee or the U.S. is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist
  • Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government
  • Promoting division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class or class of people
  • Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges or beliefs to a race or sex, or to a person because of their race or sex
  • That the rule of law does not exist but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups
  • That "all Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"
  • That governments should deny to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the law

The amendment also specifies that schools can teach about ethnic groups' histories as described in textbooks and instructional materials. Educators can also only teach about controversial aspects of history, such as racial oppression or slavery, as long those discussions are impartial.

Educators who violate the amendment can risk losing state funding for their schools, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee.

“With the stroke of a pen, the governor has silenced constructive dialogue that would educate individuals on the discrimination and systemic barriers that people of color still face in this country – including long-term inequalities in educational outcomes, incarceration rates, economic advancement and health outcomes – as well as ways we can move forward together," said Hedy Weiberg, the executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. 

In a statement Wednesday, Ragan compared teaching the education topics listed above to "Marxist/Alinsky style indoctrination."

"In short, this indoctrination wastes valuable education time that could be better used in upgrading literacy or numeracy in our schools," he said. "Such political philosophies are not designed to bring people together.  Rather, instruction using these tenets is intended to sow hatred, division and discord."

Governor Lee signed the bill after it was sent to a conference so that differences between two versions of the bill from the House and Senate could be resolved. The majority opinion in the conference said that the amendment should be adopted.

"The governor appears to have amnesia about his own words: ‘history without understanding is quickly forgotten,'" said Weiberg.

The bill will apply to the 2021-2022 school year.


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