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STATEMENT: State Efforts To Limit Instruction of Racism and Sexism Are a Diversion For Failing To Expand Educational Opportunity

Washington, D.C. — This week, state legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas, and Tennessee joined Idaho in advancing legislation that would limit teachers’ ability to teach students about systemic racism, sexism, and bias, among other topics. Other states are considering similar bills. In response, Khalilah Harris, acting vice president for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, released the following statement:

These states are searching for a problem that does not exist because they’ve refused to focus on expanding educational opportunity for all children and supporting educators who have been forced to navigate a grueling year of instruction. Talking about racism, sexism, or homophobia doesn’t create racism, sexism, or homophobia; neither does centering the voices of people most affected by systemic forms of bias in academic instruction. To the contrary, this approach empowers students to leave the classroom with a more informed understanding of our history, people’s lived experiences, and how they can limit the influence of bias in their own lives.

In light of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and as tech platforms give extremists public platforms to further spread lies and dangerous ideologies, it is more important than ever that our schools do not equivocate in discussing our history and the difference between right and wrong.

Further, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a federal civil rights law, requires schools to offer rigorous and effective instruction. Imposing a gag order that requires educators to teach false content or that bars them from discussing racism in schools that were segregated less than seven decades ago, some having returned to being segregated today—and that, to this day, suspend students of color at disproportionate rates—makes that impossible. The federal government should review state efforts to reduce or eliminate equal access under the law to a quality education. Moreover, the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice must be proactive in protecting the rights of all children.

For more information or to speak to an expert, please contact Colin Seeberger at or 202-741-6292.