Jun 18, 2021 - News
Rep. Lowery requests AG's opinion on teaching critical race theory
Illustration of a general prohibition symbol, with a gavel as a crossbar.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge could soon be weighing in on the national debate about whether and how to teach school kids about the country's history of racism.

Driving the news: In a letter dated June 7, state Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) asked Rutledge for an opinion "regarding the legality of teaching so-called 'anti-racism' and Critical Race Theory in Arkansas public schools and universities."

  • While an opinion from the AG doesn't have legal teeth, some educators could feel pressure to temper lesson plans depending on its wording.

Why it matters: A year after the killing of George Floyd, how systemic racism is — or is not — taught in public schools has become a new battle front, with implications for how the next generation of Americans understands U.S. history, writes Axios' Russell Contreras.

The big picture: Five states have enacted laws to limit students' exposure to critical race theory — a concept that links racial discrimination to the nation's foundations and legal system.

  • Tracking by Education Week shows that similar bills have been proposed or are moving through the legislative process in eight states and a bill is pre-filed for the next session in Kentucky.
  • Educators across the U.S. protested these restrictive laws last weekend.

Flashback: Lowery sponsored House Bill 1231, which would have prohibited using the New York Times' 1619 Project in Arkansas schools, and House Bill 1218, which would have prohibited offering certain types of courses based on race, gender or social class.

  • Both failed to get needed legislative support and were withdrawn.
  • Of note: The Arkansas State Teachers Association opposed House Bill 1231.

Lowery then introduced House Bill 1761 in March, which would prohibit instructional materials in public schools from teaching any race is superior, that any race is inherently racist or that the U.S. is systematically racist.

  • It passed the House but the Senate referred it to committee and the legislature adjourned before it was brought to the floor.
  • It's unclear if the legislature will take up the bill in the fall session.

What's next: There is no timeline for when Rutledge's office may issue an opinion in response to the June 7 letter.

Read the letter:

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