Tennessee Teachers Call for "Fact-Based" Education, Challenge State's Prohibited Concepts Law

Advocate Andy

Tennessee Education Association, five teachers file suit against state alleging law on prohibited concepts is unconstitutional

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) and five Tennessee public school educators have filed suit against the State of Tennessee alleging the state's prohibited concepts law is unconstitutional. The TEA says the law deprives students of a "fact-based" education and puts teachers in an impossible position as state standards may violate this law.

In a statement, TEA President and Knox County educator Tanya Coats outlined what she says are the harms of the law.

“This law interferes with Tennessee teachers’ job to provide a fact-based, well-rounded education to their students," Coats said.

The lawsuit calls into question the unconstitutionally vague language of the law and the subjective nature of its enforcement. The law interferes with instruction on difficult but important topics included in the Tennessee State Standards, which were developed and approved by Tennesseans.

Specifically, the lawsuit claims the law fails to provide Tennessee educators a reasonable opportunity to understand what conduct it prohibits; it encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement; and, as a result, it is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

The prohibited concepts law (Public Chapter No. 493) outlines 14 concepts that shall not be taught in the state's public schools. Students, teachers, or parents in a school district may file a formal complaint if they believe one or more of these concepts are being taught. If the complaint is not satisfactorily resolved, school systems face a financial penalty from the state.

The concepts outlined in the legislation (that are prohibited from being discussed in Tennessee public school classrooms) include:

a. One (1) race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;
b. An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;
c. An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex;
d. An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex;
e. An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;
f. An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex;
g. A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex;
h. This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist;
i. Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States
j. Promoting division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people;
k. Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex;
l. The rule of law does not exist, but instead is series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups;
m. All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; or
n. Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.

Coats says the vagueness of the law and the potential for financial penalties for school districts creates an unfair burden for teachers.

“Laws need to be clear. The prohibited concepts law conflicts with the state’s own academic standards and curriculum, which creates unfair risks to Tennessee teachers using state-approved materials, following state standards, and providing fact-based instruction,” Coats said. “Educators have already spent countless hours trying to understand and navigate the law’s unclear requirements.”

According to Coats, the law will be harmful to Tennessee students:

“Tennessee students will fall behind their peers in other states if this law stays on the books. We are already seeing school leaders make changes to instruction and school activities due to the risk of losing state funding, facing unfair repercussions or threats to their professional standing. TEA is committed to fighting for public school educators’ right to do their job and Tennessee children’s right to a fact-based, well-rounded public education,” Coats said.

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 4

Published by

Andy Spears is a middle Tennessee writer and policy advocate. He reports on news around public policy issues - education, health care, consumer protection, and more.

Nashville, TN

More from Advocate Andy

Comments / 0