The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of civil rights groups, teachers and students against Oklahoma state and school officials over the state’s new law limiting discussions on racism and sexism in the classroom, in the first constitutional challenge against a wave of Republican-passed measures banning so-called “critical race theory” from schools.
The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma against Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R), Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, Attorney General John O’Connor and members of the Oklahoma Board of Education, among others.
The groups behind the lawsuit — which include the Black Emergency Response Team, Oklahoma State Conference For The Advancement of Colored People and the American Indian Movement — allege Oklahoma’s HB 1775, which passed in May, “suppresses” students and teachers’ freedom of speech and “censors” students of color and the LGBTQ+ community by preventing them from learning about their history.
The ACLU claims in the lawsuit that Oklahoma school teachers are no longer able to use terms like “diversity” and “white privilege” during classes and books like To Kill A Mockingbird have been removed from reading lists.
The ACLU also stressed that events in Oklahoma’s past like the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, where a mob of white residents attacked the Black neighborhood of Greenwood killing hundreds of residents, should be fully discussed in classrooms.
The lawsuit requests the federal judge stop any enforcement of the law and declare it unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
Following the passage of the bill in May, school officials released new guidance on how teachers should carry out the law, which carries penalties including loss of teaching licenses or accreditation for schools. The law also gives parents the power to file a complaint that their children are being taught something that is banned. Other conservative-controlled states like Texas, Arizona and Tennessee have also passed similar laws aimed at banning critical race theory, an obscure academic school of thought calling for highlighting the continuing impacts of racism in the U.S. that has had little if any impact on primary or secondary schools.
Last week a public school administrator in Texas faced backlash on social media after NBC released audio of her telling teachers that if they put a book on the Holocaust on their syllabus, they would need to put another book with opposing views as well. The administrator, Gina Peddy, said she was following Texas’s law that requires teachers to instruct students from “diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”
ACLU Sues Oklahoma Officials Over Law Limiting Teachings On Gender Or Race