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Judge pauses part of LEARNS Act

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(The Center Square) – A judge handed down a preliminary injunction Tuesday preventing the state of Arkansas from enforcing a section of the LEARNS Act and clarifying teachers cannot be disciplined for teaching Critical Race Theory.

In the lawsuit, two public school teachers and two students challenged Section 16 of the LEARNS Act. The section barred the promotion of “teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as Critical Race Theory.”

The two teacher plaintiffs said due to that section of the LEARNS Act they were self-censoring what and how they teach to avoid running into disciplinary action, according to the ruling. As a result, the student plaintiffs said the self-censorship deprives them of being taught things they would have otherwise learned.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky granted the preliminary injunction ordering the state defendants from enforcing or implementing Section 16 in a manner that would discipline teachers in any way from teaching about Critical Race Theory.

However, the judge said teachers may be disciplined if they compel students to adopt, affirm or profess a belief that conflicts with the principle of equal protection under the law or compel students to profess a belief that someone should receive treatment based on their race, gender or other factors.

Attorney General Tim Griffin said he was pleased with the ruling.

“Today’s decision confirms what I’ve said all along. Arkansas law doesn’t prohibit teaching the history of segregation, the civil rights movement, or slavery. I’m pleased that the District Court entirely rejected the Plaintiffs’ vagueness claims. And the very limited injunction merely prohibits doing what Arkansas was never doing in the first place. I look forward to continuing our enforcement of the statute as written rather than as Plaintiffs would choose to wrongly interpret it,” Griffin said.

The judge clarified his ruling did not impact Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Executive Order issued in January 2023 that prohibits indoctrination and Critical Race Theory in schools, as the plaintiffs did not challenge it in their lawsuit.

Previously, the Fayetteville School District was told it violated the executive order by asking students what their gender or gender identity was and “conspiring” to keep students’ gender identities a secret from their parents, according to the ruling.

The Arkansas Department of Education also found North Little Rock High School violated the order with a presentation to teachers that instructed participants to acknowledge that they harbored unconscious bias, the ruling said.

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