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Defending students’ right to diverse views

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Charles McMartin

Politicians in Arizona have fostered a moral panic around Critical Race Theory (CRT). Leaders of these anti-CRT initiatives have acknowledged that they mischaracterize CRT to rally support among conservatives. In response to these attacks, advocates should ask, “What legal arguments can stunt anti-CRT legislation? How can we protect students’ rights to access information in their schools?”

Legal scholar Dylan Saul offers three points to contest the constitutionality of CRT bans. 1. Prove that these bans are politically motivated and intended to cause a chilling effect on conversations around systemic racism in public schools. 2. Demonstrate how they violate students’ right to receive information. 3. Prove that there is no legitimate pedagogical concern for restricting students’ right to access information in their curriculum.

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1. The Chilling Effect

The manufactured panic around CRT is meant to intimidate educators so they do not discuss issues related to systemic racism with their students. For example, our superintendent of Arizona Schools, Tom Horne, promised to investigate 250 Arizona teachers who signed a petition to defy any law banning CRT. Horne promised to set up a “hotline” where any teacher, parent, administrator, or student could call the Arizona Department of Education and report the use of what they perceived as CRT in any classroom. These scare tactics have left teachers in a similar situation as election officials who have been abused and assaulted for attempting to uphold the principles of our democratic institutions. Like those election officials, many teachers in Arizona are leaving the profession.

The reality is that high school curricula do not adequately address the role that racism has played in shaping US history, let alone address the core tenets of CRT. A 2017 survey report from the Southern Poverty Law Center found that only 8% of the thousand high school students they surveyed identified slavery as the cause of the Civil War, 58% of the 1,700 social studies teachers surveyed felt their textbooks lacked a “deep coverage” of slavery.

2. Students’ Right to Access Information

In the 2022 case Falls v. DeSantis, high school teachers in Florida and an elementary student challenged the constitutionality of DeSantis’ Stop W.O.K.E Act. The courts affirmed that students, but not teachers, had standing to sue the state because the CRT ban denied them their First Amendment right to access information.

Arizona Representative Raúl Grijalva emphasizes students’ right to access information in his Right to Read Act. Grijalva frames attacks on CRT as a censorship issue. Responding to conservative attempts to “ban books, censor curriculum, restrict students’ civil rights, and punish teachers for accurately recounting our nation’s history, Grijalva’s bill addresses disparities in students’ access to library resources.

3. No Legitimate Pedagogical Concern

The crucial determining factor in protecting students’ right to access information is proving that legislation banning CRT is not born from a legitimate pedagogical concern. In Gonzalez v. Douglas, the case that deemed Arizona’s 2010 ban on ethnic studies unconstitutional, the courts upheld the precedent in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier that the “state requires a legitimate pedagogical purpose to restrict students’ first amendment right to receive information.” In fact, plaintiffs showed that students in ethnic studies classes demonstrate higher levels of academic achievement than those who do not. Teachers and researchers in states hoping to challenge anti-CRT legislation should draw from and conduct studies demonstrating the positive impact that classes addressing racism have on students’ academic…

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