The Arkansas Department of Education is presenting education leaders with guidance on how to comply with Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders' executive order from Jan. 10 that "prohibits indoctrination and critical race theory in schools."
The 15-page presentation for school district leaders, dated May 3, includes what is marked as a "draft" statement of assurance -- to be signed annually by superintendents -- that their school districts comply with the governor's executive order and all other laws "with respect to the prohibition of indoctrination and teaching of critical race theory."
Kimberly Mundell, a spokeswoman for the state agency, said Tuesday that the agency's presentation restates the requirements about prohibited topics that are in the Arkansas LEARNS Act, or Act 237 that Sanders initiated.
The omnibus act revamps the state's public education system. LEARNS stands for literacy, empowerment, accountability, readiness, networking and safety.
"The guidance to school districts is to review the content of the presentation and make sure they don't have local policies and procedures that may violate this law," Mundell said.
"The assurance document is the department's way to make sure a comprehensive review occurred at the local school district level," Mundell also said in an emailed response to questions about the guidance.
The written presentation for school leaders also includes:
A definition of "prohibited indoctrination."
A process for an ongoing review of curriculum materials, training, course designs and policies.
Guidance for identifying "stereotyping," "scapegoating" and "divisive concepts."
Assurance that nothing in the executive order and guidance should be interpreted to prohibit the discussion of public policy issues.
Examples of objectionable material found by the Department of Education.
Mike Hernandez, executive director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, said Tuesday that he had received the presentation to review and that he understood district leaders have been or will be doing the same on a region by region basis.
"My understanding of the document's purpose is to review the contents of the executive order and use the examples in the review of curriculum materials, learning activities, training (professional development), course design, workflow approvals, applications, policies," Hernandez said.
"Districts will have to begin this process if they have not already. I believe this is relatively new information, so I am not sure how many districts have had a chance to review it, yet. This will likely be a task over the summer and early fall," said the leader of the organization of superintendents, principals and school business officers.
Hernandez said in an email that district leaders typically sign many different assurance documents.
The draft statement of assurance document related to the prohibition of indoctrination and critical race theory is different in that it is connected to an executive order, he said.
Sanders has issued multiple executive orders in regard to state operations since she took office Jan. 10.
"I do believe this document will be helpful to districts in terms of guidance on how to be compliant with the order," Hernandez said.
The presentation starts by quoting Sanders' Executive Order 23-05:
"No communication by a public-school employee, public school representative, or guest speaker shall compel a person to adopt, affirm or profess an idea in violation of [federal law including the] Civil Rights Act of 1964."
The guidance defines prohibited indoctrination as:
"People of one color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex, age, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, national origin, or any other characteristic protected by federal or state law are inherently superior or inferior to people of another color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex, age, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, national origin, or any other characteristic protected by federal or state law.
"An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual's color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex, age, marital status, familial status, disability, religion, national origin, or any other characteristic protected by federal or state law."
The guidance calls for developing processes and procedures for reviewing materials, training and policies, and means to address instances that might occur.
"If any items are found to conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law, then the district is instructed to amend, annul, or alter those rules, regulations, policies, materials, or communications to remove the prohibited indoctrination," the guidance presentation states.
The presentation urges reviewers to consider whether materials perpetuate stereotyping by assigning traits and values to an individual or group based on race, disability, beliefs or other characteristics protected by federal or state law:
"Does the content perpetuate 'scapegoating' by assigning fault, blame, bias to an individual or group based on color, creed, race, ethnicity, sex, age, or other characteristics protected by law?"
The guidance also addresses "divisive concepts" based on those legally protected characteristics.
Such concepts could include holding a group of people or an individual as inherently superior to another, or that a group of people or an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment, or that a group of people or an individual -- as a result of race or sex -- is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.
The guidance cautions against teaching a student what to think based on race, religion, national origin or other characteristics protected by law.
However, after the different cautions in the guidance document, the presentation also states that the discussion of ideas, history of concepts or public policy issues of the day are not prohibited -- even though "individuals may find [them] unwelcome, disagreeable or offensive."
The guidance cites examples of indoctrination and critical race theory that the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education staff have identified -- one from educator preparation coursework for elementary school math teacher candidates and the other from a survey given during an employee training program.
The teacher preparation program asked candidates to "understand the roles of power, privilege and oppression in the history of mathematics education and be equipped to question existing educational systems that produce inequitable learning experiences and outcomes for students."
The survey question in an unnamed district's training program was: "Culturally competent professionals acknowledge and continually examine the influence of culture, race, power and privilege and how that influence manifests itself in their personal and professional decisions."
In her campaign for governor last year Sanders had said she would stop the teaching of critical race theory and indoctrination of students.
As governor, Sanders' administration developed a list of "Myths and Facts" about the provisions of the Arkansas LEARNS Act, which is her overhaul of the state's public kindergarten through 12th grade education system. Information about the LEARNS Act, including the "Myths and Facts" list is here: https://learns.ade.arkansas.gov.
One of the "myths" cited is "Critical race theory is not being taught anywhere in Arkansas."
That is countered with the "fact" that "President Biden's Department of Education is using nationwide guidelines and grant programs to force school districts to adopt key tenets of Critical Race Theory. That includes work from the 'Abolitionist Teaching Network' and parts of the newly proposed 'American History and Civics Education' priorities.
"The Governor's Executive Order directed the [Arkansas Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva] to comb through those [federal Department of Education] materials to ensure Washington bureaucrats can't bully Arkansas schools into teaching racist indoctrination," the Myth and Facts stated. "As Governor Sanders and Secretary Oliva have said, Arkansas will teach students how to think, not what to think," the "Myths and Facts" also stated.