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Tennessee releases guidelines on critical race theory law

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 6:09 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Tennessee Department of Education released a new set of guidelines Monday to help public schools navigate a new state law that bans the teaching of critical race theory (CRT).

It’s been one of the most widely debated topics in education this year.

In May, Tennessee banned schools from teaching CRT. The law went into effect July 1.

Governor Bill Lee calls CRT divisive.

“Critical race theory is un-American,” Lee said. “It fundamentally puts groups of people above the sanctity of the individual which is a founding principle of this nation. It’s appropriate that we would not teach critical race theory in this state.”

Monday, the Tennessee Department of Education released 11 pages of guidelines to help districts navigate the new law.

The guidelines also clarify what can and cannot be taught.

For instance, schools cannot teach that one race or sex is inherently superior to another. They also cannot teach that a person “by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”

But the rules say schools can hold impartial discussions on controversial aspects of history.

They can also teach impartial lessons “on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region.”

The rules also say only a current student, a parent of a current student, or a current employee can file a complaint if they suspect a teacher is teaching CRT. The complaint must be filed within 30 days.

Decisions issued by local school districts can be appealed to the Tennessee Department of Education, which can withhold funding from school districts found to have violated the law.

For the first violation, the department can withhold two percent of annual state funds or $1 million, whichever is less.

The department can withhold 4percent of annual state funds or $2 million, whichever is less, for a second violation.

For five or more violations, the department can withhold up to 10 percent of annual state funds or $5 million, whichever is less.

While CRT has been around for decades, it became a huge issue this year with states controlled by Republicans moving to ban CRT in public schools.

Daniel Kiel with the University of Memphis School of Law said at a forum held in June that CRT should not be about assigning guilt or blame, but about presenting the country’s true and complicated history to students.

“It can be both true that Thomas Jefferson wrote some great theoretical things about liberty and equality and justice and even fought for those things, and that Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder,” said Kiel.

Wallis Baxter, a professor of African American Literature at Gettysburg College described CRT as “a theoretical frame of reference for us to dig into the reality of race in America.”

Lee says now that new rules have been proposed concerning Tennessee’s ban, it’s important to hear from the public.

“We need to know what the public thinks about those guidelines but we need to be very clear. Our legislature, the people spoke, and we will not be teaching critical race theory in Tennessee,” Lee said.

The public has until August 11 to submit comments.

Comments can be sent to the following email address: EDU.PublicComments@tn.gov.

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