May 8, 2024 - Politics

Judge blocks "indoctrination" section of Arkansas education law

Illustration of a Black teacher's hand erasing the word "history."

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A federal judge said late Tuesday that part of the LEARNS Act can't be enforced while a lawsuit challenging its "indoctrination" section is being litigated.

Why it matters: Some supporters of LEARNS say Section 16 protects children from indoctrination with ideologies.

  • Some educators and students say it's "unworkably vague and overly broad" — violating teachers' right to due process and students' First Amendment right to receive information.

State of play: In the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Rudofsky wrote that the section appears to prohibit the teaching of critical race theory as "indoctrination."

  • The law cannot be enforced "in a manner that disciplines" the plaintiffs for teaching critical race theory, or for using it to teach other topics or referencing parts of the theory, the order states.
  • Rudofsky, however, ruled plaintiffs can be disciplined if they compel a student to adopt, affirm or profess a belief in a theory, ideology or idea (including critical race theory) that conflicts with the principle of equal protection under the law.

Little Rock Central High School teachers Ruthie Walls and Colton Gilbert are plaintiffs in the suit filed in late March, along with Central High students.

  • Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the state's education secretary, Jacob Oliva, are named as defendants.

Between the lines: Critical race theory — which holds that racism is baked into the formation of the nation and ingrained in our legal, financial and education systems — was developed in law schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

What they're saying: "The court's ruling has essentially gutted Arkansas' classroom censorship law to render the law virtually meaningless," plaintiffs' lawyer David Hinojosa said in a statement.

  • "The ruling should provide teachers greater comfort in teaching the truth, and challenging students to broaden their perspectives."

The other side: "Arkansas law doesn't prohibit teaching the history of segregation, the civil rights movement or slavery," Attorney General Tim Griffin said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

  • "[The] very limited injunction merely prohibits doing what Arkansas was never doing in the first place."

What we're watching: It's not immediately clear when the next hearing will be.

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