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Lawmakers spar over new rules to punish teachers, schools for instruction about race, gender – Tennessee Lookout

A legislature on Monday approved temporary rules guiding how school districts in Tennessee investigate complaints about classroom debates about race and gender — and the huge financial penalties for school districts that do not adhere to the rules on property.

The emergency rules have been in place since July 31, then were revised again in November, after legislation was passed prohibiting K-12 teachers from teaching critical race theory in the classroom. Critical race theory is an academic framework for examining the persistence of race and racism in shaping the social fabric of a nation and institutions that are not typically taught in K-12 schools.

And while a review of the rules on Monday by the legislatures’ Joint Government Operations Committee was routine, some lawmakers took the opportunity to direct sharp criticism of the Basic Law and rules drafted by the state’s Department of Education.

The controversial law sets out 14 “prohibited concepts” in the classroom regarding how teachers should lead discussions about race and gender. The law gives the state Department of Education the power to withhold education funding from school districts that fail to prevent, investigate, or discipline their teaching. Prohibited concepts include that the United States is “fundamentally racist, sexist, or irredeemably racist” and “an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, distress, or any other form of psychological distress simply because of his or her gender.”

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. (Photo: John Bartebello)

“Teachers teach facts. We don’t know feelings. How do you hold someone accountable with legislation or rules because of how a student feels when learning the facts,” he said. Representative Gloria Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat and retired educator. “Suppose it is the path of tears and their grandmother is Indian. How do you legislate or punish on the basis of feelings when the teacher teaches the facts.”

Department of Education attorneys note that the rules they drafted are based on the wording of the legislation, but that if a complaint arises about a teacher teaching a subject, the school district will decide whether one of the 14 prohibited concepts has “faltered.”

The rules establish a process that is only available to current students, their parents, and district employees who believe a prohibited concept has been taught in schools. They must first convey their concerns to the local school board, which should conduct an investigation. Appeals against local school board decisions can be submitted to the Department of Education.

Any violation may result in teacher suspension, loss of teaching license, or termination of employment. Fines can also be imposed on entire public school districts or charter schools. These penalties amount to 2% of state funding for the first offense and reach 10% for the fifth.

A slide from a presentation given by Tennessee Department of Education officials describes emergency rules that were put in place after the passage of a law prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory in state schools.

Complaints may also be filed by citizens who are not parents of children or school-age employees, but those complaints must go through school boards’ existing grievance procedures, administration attorneys told lawmakers. These complaints may also result in counties losing their funding.

“If there is a known violation of a district, we will block its funding,” said Charlie Bufalino, an assistant to the department’s Policy and Legislative Affairs Committee. The mentioned Buffalino counties will have the opportunity to correct the violation before they are subject to financial fines.

Representative Mike Stewart, D-Nashville raised the specter of more books being banned under the rules, citing the recent example of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, Mouse, by Art Spiegelman that was removed from the eighth-grade curriculum at McMinn County schools.

“The easiest thing to do for the LEA (local education authority) if it is presented with, say, this book with Maus, who talks about the Holocaust — which seems to have just been banned in McMinn County — the easiest thing for the LEA to do is just to do it,” Stewart said. : “Ban the book because they then guarantee … not to face second guesswork by the department and not to cut their funding, right.”

“If I’m an LEA, the best I can do is ban every book someone complains about, that way there’s no way under your legal framework I could get fined, right?” Stewart said. “This is how it works.”

Representative John Ragan, R Oak Ridge (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Representative John Ragan, R Oak Ridge (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

Republican lawmakers have indicated that they may reconsider the rules when they are presented to them again next fall, and some have expressed concern that the rules should include the ability of any citizen to file a complaint through the same process as students, their parents and staff.

But some Republicans also had a sharp message to fellow Democrats: “If you don’t like the law, you can introduce another bill to change it.” Representative John Ragan, an Oak Ridge Republican who serves as chair of the Joint Government Operations Committee, said.

This is what the legislation says:

The following concepts are prohibited and may not be included or promoted in an educational course, syllabus, educational program, or in supplementary educational materials:

a. Race or gender is inherently superior to another race or gender;

B. The individual, by virtue of his race or gender, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;

c. An individual must be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of their race or gender;

Dr.. The moral character of an individual is determined by his race or gender;

e. An individual, by virtue of his or her race or gender, bears responsibility for acts committed in the past by other members of the same race or gender;

F. The individual must feel discomfort, guilt, distress, or any other form of psychological distress solely because of his or her gender;

g. Merit is racist or sexist in nature, or designed by a particular race or gender to oppress members of one race or gender;

h. This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist, sexist, or sexist;

I. promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government;

j. promoting division or resentment of race, gender, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, caste, or class of people;

K. attributing character traits, values, moral or ethical rules, privileges, or beliefs to a race or gender, or to an individual because of his or her race or gender;

to. The rule of law does not exist, but rather is a series of power relations and conflicts between ethnic groups or other groups;

M. All Americans are not equal and their Creator does not grant them certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; or

n. Governments shall deprive anyone under the authority of the government of the equal protection of the law.

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