Anti-DEI, NAACP, BLACK Arkansas

NAACP Joins Legal Battle Against Arkansas LEARNS Act’s Anti-DEI Efforts 

The fighting never stops!

The NAACP has joined a growing lawsuit against the state of Arkansas over the legislation that intentionally blocks public schools from teaching diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory. 

In collaboration with the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights, the Arkansas chapter of the civil rights organization is pressing a federal court to implement an injunction in hopes that the LEARNS Act — standing for Literacy, Empowerment, Accountability, Readiness, Networking and School Safety Act — will be stopped while the suit goes through litigation. 

Filed in March 2024 by civil rights attorney Mike Laux, the now-amended lawsuit argues that Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies classes taught in public schools haven’t received proper treatment in comparison to other AP courses. It continues to accuse the courses of being marginalized and underfunded, as well as depriving students of the opportunity to learn about the history and contributions of Black Americans.  

This is an added measure to the organization’s fight against what President Derrick Johnson describes as a wave of anti-DEI legislation in the United States. “From Arkansas to Alabama, the desecration of diversity, equity and inclusion poses an imminent threat to the future of our nation,” Johnson said. 

“We refuse to go back. The NAACP will continue to use every tool at our disposal to ensure that our constitutional rights are protected and our culture respected. This is what standing for community looks like.” 

Plaintiffs, including two high school teachers and two students from Little Rock Central High School — the same school attended by the Little Rock Nine following the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling ending public school segregation — argue the legislation caused a large amount of “anxiety, stress, and consternation for teachers, parents, and students alike across Arkansas.” 

This ultimately resulted in the courses being eliminated from the state catalog. Barry Johnson, president of the NAACP Arkansas State Conference, said the move makes it clear that people have forgotten about the Black history created in the state, also known as “The Land of Opportunity.” “The Black community in Arkansas has a decades-long history of fighting for equitable education,” he said. 

“Let’s not forget — it was Arkansas children who shouldered the responsibility of integrating our nation’s schools. Nearly seven decades later, we carry the torch by fighting for the right for that history to be taught.”

Little Rock Central High is also the alma mater of Arkansas’s Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who first signed the legislation in January 2023 as an executive order to ban what supporters call the “indoctrination” and teaching of critical race theory (CRT). She once claimed CRT had no place in Arkansas classrooms as it is “antithetical to the traditional American values of neutrality, equality, and fairness.” 

After the governor signed the act into law in March 2023, it allowed the Arkansas Department of Education to create “enhanced processes and policies that prevent prohibited indoctrination, including Critical Race Theory, as it relates to employees, contractors, and guest speakers or lecturers of the department.”

However, opposers like Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Director of the Educational Opportunities Project, David Hinojosa, thinks the act gives students only part of the nation’s story, forcing teachers to give a “whitewashed” version of American history. “Frankly, it’s downright offensive and unjust for Arkansas to be forcing educators to censor their discussion on racism and stripping the AP African American Studies course of all its benefits, including extra weight for their GPAs and potentially earning college credit,” he said, according to The Hill. 

Looking past legislation resistance, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the law, saying the act passed with a valid emergency clause in October 2023. 

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