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Arkansas Lawmaker Says Teachers, Districts Could Face Lawsuits For Teaching Critical Race Theory

State Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, addresses reporters at the Arkansas State Capitol on Tuesday.
Daniel Breen

A state lawmaker says he’s asking the Arkansas Department of Education to instruct teachers and schools they could face legal repercussions for teaching critical race theory.

Republican  Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle says he’s asked Education Secretary Johnny Key to make districts aware of a recent opinion by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge that says teaching critical race theory is unconstitutional.

Speaking in a news conference Tuesday, Lowery, who requested the opinion from Rutledge, said it strengthens the rights of parents to review and challenge the content being taught to their children.

“These parents are finding out that as they make requests, if they asked specifically about any materials specifically related to critical race theory, those instructional materials have been hidden behind other terminologies,” Lowery said. “Those terminologies might be diversity, it may be equity, maybe fairness.”

A law passed in the most recent legislative session, Act 684, allows parents to request school officials not to teach certain instructional materials. Lowery was also the sponsor of two failed bills that would have restricted the teaching of the 1619 Project as well as other concepts that he says “isolate students based on race, gender, political affiliation, social class, or other distinctions.”

Lowery said contacting school officials should be the first step for parents concerned about critical race theory, though they now have the option to take legal action against schools and even individual teachers.

“We’re also wanting to alert parents that they have this extra tool in the toolbox, so to speak, of not just protesting materials, that’s probably the first step… but to give them an additional resource, that is they can take, not just the school district, but they can take the teacher to court.”

Critical race theory is defined as an academic concept that seeks to critically examine the intersection of race and U.S. law, and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice. Lowery says teaching the theory, which he says labels white students as being “oppressors” or “privileged” ultimately has a negative impact on all students.

“It hurts students when you tell them they are an oppressor or that they are privileged, but it equally hurts Black students if you point at them and you don’t recognize their ability to achieve and you instead say that they are victims,” Lowery said.

Rutledge’s opinion released Monday states that teaching the theory in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by treating white students differently than students of color.

Lowery’s actions come amid a national outcry from Republican officials and activists, who claim critical race theory unfairly excludes white people from the conversation, and that it inaccurately describes the U.S. as a systemically racist nation. The U.S. Senate last week narrowly approved an amendment to a budget reconciliation package proposed by Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton that would prohibit federal funding for schools that teach the theory.

“But it was the thinnest majority possible, 50-to-49, and all 49 of those Democrats are going to have to answer at the ballot box… about why they think your tax dollars should go to indoctrinate children to think America is a racist nation,” Cotton said in an interview Sunday on Fox News.

Lowery said while he supports teaching the history of racism in the U.S., teachers in Arkansas aren’t equipped to teach the theory in a way that does not ostracize white students.

“That is exactly where we need to start, and so in the meantime we should be banning the teaching of critical race theory in our classrooms until we know the teachers are adequately prepared to be able to hear, in a fair and balanced way, the conversations, the input of all students regardless of their race or ethnicity.”

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.
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