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Federal judge denies stay in Arkansas LEARNS ‘indoctrination’ lawsuit

The plaintiffs are suing for damages after allegedly suffering from years of sexual abuse while at "The Lords Ranch."
Michael Hibblen
Little Rock Public Radio
The Richard Sheppard Arnold United States Courthouse in Little Rock.

From the Arkansas Advocate:

A federal judge on Monday denied a motion for a stay of proceedings pending an appeal in a case challenging the constitutionality of a section of the LEARNS Act that bans “indoctrination” in public schools.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky last week granted in part and denied in part the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in the lawsuit.

The state on Friday filed a notice of appeal of the order, as well as a motion for a stay pending its appeal and a stay of a May 14 deadline for filing responses, pending the court’s ruling on the motion.

Filed in Pulaski Circuit Court byLittle Rock Central High School parents, students and teachers against Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Education Secretary Jacob Oliva and the Arkansas State Board of Education, the suit claims the “indoctrination” ban in Section 16 of the LEARNS Act violates the First and Fourteenth amendments, which guarantee a right to freedom of speech and due process.

The LEARNS Act, legislation prioritized and signed into law last year by Sanders, made wide-ranging changes to Arkansas’ education system, including increasing the state’s minimum teacher salary to $50,000 and creating a school voucher program.

Two of the plaintiffs are teachers who, according to an amended complaintfiled on April 12, are self-censoring what and how they teach because they don’t want to suffer the consequences of accidentally breaking the law.

Rudofsky last week ordered that the state defendants, except the governor, are enjoined for the duration of the litigation from enforcing Section 16 in a manner that disciplines or prevents the teacher plaintiffs from teaching about Critical Race Theory or using it to teach other topics.

Critical Race Theory is cited in the LEARNS Act as an ideology that teachers could “indoctrinate” students into believing.

However, Rudofsky said the teachers could be disciplined if either “compels a student to adopt, affirm, or profess a belief in a theory, ideology or idea (including Critical Race Theory) that conflicts with the principle of equal protection under the law.”

Rudofsky noted that compulsion requires speech or actions, such as a teacher threatening to grade on the basis of whether a student accepts or rejects a theory or a teacher denigrating students because of their agreement or disagreement with the theory.

Oliva and the Arkansas State Board of Education are appealing last week’s order to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Antoinette Grajeda is a multimedia journalist who has reported since 2007 on a wide range of topics, including politics, health, education, immigration and the arts for NPR affiliates, print publications and digital platforms. A University of Arkansas alumna, she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a master’s degree in documentary film.