Tennessee DOE rejects complaint filed under anti-critical race theory law

The Tennessee DOE rejected a complaint against education about the civil rights movement as it applied to classes given before the law came into effect.

 Robin Steenman, chair of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, waits to speak at a board of education meeting, where she will make a public comment against teaching "critical race theory," a catch-all phrase to denounce school curricula and policies considered too progressive (photo credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS)
Robin Steenman, chair of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, waits to speak at a board of education meeting, where she will make a public comment against teaching "critical race theory," a catch-all phrase to denounce school curricula and policies considered too progressive
(photo credit: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS)

The Tennessee Department of Education has rejected a complaint by a conservative movement which alleged that students were being taught about the civil rights movement with a "lack of historical context and difference in perspective," but encouraged the complainants to work with the school district to "resolve the issues and concerns," the Tennessean reported on Monday.

The movement, Moms for Liberty Williamson County, filed a complaint claiming that the Williamson County Schools were violating a new state law aimed at banning critical race theory by teaching "explicit and implicit Anti-American, Anti-White and Anti-Mexican" content.

According to the law, passed in May, any school found to be teaching prohibited material concerning race, sex or discrimination would have funding withheld by the state until the school provides evidence that it is no longer in violation.

Moms for Liberty took issue with the Wit and Wisdom curriculum for Second Grade, pointing specifically to three books and the teacher manuals accompanying them: "Martin Luther King Jr and the March on Washington," "Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story" and "The Story of Ruby Bridges."

Bridges was the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana in 1960.

ON AUGUST 28, 1963, nearly 250,000 people joined the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs.  (credit: Wikimedia Commons)ON AUGUST 28, 1963, nearly 250,000 people joined the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The movement claimed that the books and teacher manuals taught that "people of color continue to be oppressed by an oppressive 'angry, vicious, scary, mean, loud, violent, [rude] and [hateful]' white population and teaches that the racial injustice of the 1960s exists today."

The movement also claimed that second graders were being exposed to a "high level of manipulation" by the educational material on the civil rights movement, which it said "focuses repeatedly and daily on very dark and divisive slivers of American history...without highlighting the positive achievements, like unity and the overall improvement of our country."

"The relentless nature of how these divisive stories are taught, the lack of historical context and difference in perspective, and the manipulative pedagogy all work together to amplify and sow feelings of resentment, shame of one's skin color and/or fear," wrote Moms for Liberty in the complaint.

The movement did not specify what "different perspective" concerning the civil rights movement they felt was lacking.

The complaint pointed to a number of specific issues in the books and teacher manuals which it claimed were examples of "explicit and implicit indoctrination," including photos showing examples of racial discrimination, such as white firemen blasting black children with firehoses and segregated water fountains, and teaching instructions, such as emphasizing how the N word is still used as a racial slur and using word injustice to describe racial discrimination.

Moms for Liberty argued that the material "targeted" elementary school students with lessons on past injustices "as if they were occurring in [the] present day," saying this violated Tennessee law. The movement also claimed that some children were seeing counselors to "overcome the emotional trauma inflicted upon them" by Tennessee public education.

The Tennessee DOE rejected the complaint because it referred to content taught in the 2020-2021 school year and the DOE is only authorized to investigate allegations from the 2021-2022 school year and onwards. The DOE stressed that the department was not making a determination regarding the merit of the allegations and encouraged Moms for Liberty to work with the school district to resolve their issues and concerns.

Moms for Liberty tweeted a screenshot of the rejection, writing "The fine art of the dodge."

The law in question prohibits public or charter schools in Tennessee from teaching that:

- One race or sex is superior to another- An individual, by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously- An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of their race or sex- An individual’s moral character is determined by their race or sex- An individual, by virtue of their race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex- An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of their race or sex- A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex- Tennessee or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist- Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States 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 an individual because of their race or sex- The rule of law does not exist, but instead is series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups- 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- Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law

Guidelines by the DOE stated that the history of an ethnic group, the "impartial discussion of controversial aspects of history" and the "impartial instruction on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region" would not be prohibited by the law.

During a debate on the bill in May, Republican Rep. Justin Lafferty stated that the Three-Fifths Compromises, which determined that three-fifths of a state's slave population could be counted toward its representation in Congress and tax apportionment, was enacted "for the purpose of ending slavery," drawing applause from Republicans after his speech, according to the Tennessean.