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State looks at indoctrination violations

by Josh Snyder | September 3, 2023 at 5:08 a.m.
The floor of Bulldog Lobby inside Fayetteville High School is shown at Fayetteville in this Sept. 13, 2022 file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

In the roughly eight months since Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued an executive order banning indoctrination and critical race theory in Arkansas schools, the state has responded to purported violations in districts from northern parts of the state south toward Hot Springs.

The state describes these bans as efforts to prevent teachings that are “antithetical to the traditional American values of neutrality, equality, and fairness.” Critics argue the limits of the state’s powers to modify curricula and trainings under the rules are unclear and unnecessary.

In Arkansas, Sanders’ executive order and the LEARNS Act task state Education Department Secretary Jacob Oliva with reviewing and identifying any rules, policies, materials and communications that “promote teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as Critical Race Theory.” They both require the secretary and his agency to “amend, annul or alter” offending rules, policies, materials and communications.

[RELATED: Arkansas’ rules on ‘divisive topics’ similar to Trump executive order, laws in other states]

A list provided by the state Department of Education describes several infractions of the prohibition, as well as the agency’s response. In total, the list relates six issues in which prohibited indoctrination reportedly took place.

The Fayetteville School District violated the rule when it asked students for their “gender or gender identity” in a cultural climate survey, the list states. A survey was also given out during a required professional development training led by teachers. Among the questions and prompts in the survey, according to the Education Department list, was one that asked if respondents rejected “any privileges that come with white racial identity,” as well as one that asked if respondents were “brave equity warriors.”

In another instance, a nonprofit that Arkansas uses for training teachers to lead AP computer science principles courses, included instruction materials that reportedly “asked teachers to address their ‘unconscious biases’ and craft an ‘equity framework.’” According to the state Department of Education, the materials “encouraged teachers to first and foremost look at students through the lens of race, and gave credence to the false notion that there are more than two genders.”

At the Pulaski County School District, teachers hung “divisive materials” in their classrooms, including the pride flag, and posted Pride month messages on elementary school marquees and on social media, the Education Department said. The agency described the flag as a “politicized symbol” that “gives students the impression that only one outlook on gender and sexuality is acceptable in schools.”

At the Lakeside School District, teaching materials reportedly “highlighted groups like ‘Genderqueer.’” The district also shared a prohibited document on “Sex, Gender and Society.”

An Arkansas State University team gave a presentation to North Little Rock High School teachers that also contained “divisive materials.” Among the divisive issues reportedly brought up during the presentation were instructions that participants “acknowledge that [they] harbor unconscious biases,” and positively presenting “actions taken to appease leftists in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots, including removing police departments from schools, removing historical monuments, and renaming brands like Aunt Jemima syrup.”

The state Education Department responded to each issue by contacting the involved parties to discuss the violations. In each instance, the respondents said they would make changes to ensure compliance.


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