Sat. May 18th, 2024

NAACP Jumps into Legal Fray Against Arkansas to Take on Anti-DEI Efforts Head On

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May8,2024

The NAACP has joined the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights in filing a complaint against the state of Arkansas for underfunding an advanced placement African American studies high school course. 

The complaint alleges that under the state’s Literacy, Empowerment, Accountability, Readiness, Networking and School Safety Act — or LEARNS Act — the course has received inequitable treatment and been underfunded compared to other advanced placement courses. The NAACP argues that the LEARNS Act is yet another attack on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts around the nation.

“From Arkansas to Alabama, the desecration of diversity, equity, and inclusion poses an imminent threat to the future of our nation. Make no mistake, these coordinated efforts to rewrite our history, remove our leaders from classrooms, and degrade our culture are a covert attempt to revert the progress we’ve worked tirelessly to secure,” Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement. 

“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.”

The complaint alleges that the AP African American Studies course has been singled out by the state’s decision to not allow the course to be used toward graduation credit and its refusal to pay students’ testing fees. This, the plaintiffs argue, is in direct contrast to how the state treats other AP courses. 

The suit adds that the disparity “perpetuates systemic inequalities in education and deprives students of the opportunity to learn about the rich history and contributions of African Americans.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include two high school teachers and two students from Little Rock Central High School — the same high school the Little Rock Nine attended after the Supreme Court ruled that schools must desegregate. 

It is also Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ (R) alma mater. 

Sanders signed the LEARNS Act into law in January 2023 as an executive order. It was designed to prohibit “indoctrination” and the teaching of critical race theory in the state’s public schools.

At the time, Sanders said, critical race theory had no place in Arkansas classrooms because it is “antithetical to the traditional American values of neutrality, equality, and fairness. It emphasizes skin color as a person’s primary characteristic, thereby resurrecting segregationist values, which America has fought so hard to reject.”

Under the Act, the Arkansas Department of Education created an “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.”

David Hinojosa, Director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law argued that the act prohibits students from receiving a full education on the nation’s history. 

Instead, he argued, teachers are being forced to censor themselves and students are receiving a “whitewashed” version of American history because it “makes some people uncomfortable.”

“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,” Hinojosa added. 

The complaint from the NAACP and the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights alleges that the state did not offer guidance on how to implement the LEARNS Act. 

Still, the plaintiffs argue, Jacob Olivia, secretary of Arkansas’s department of education, revoked approval of the course just days before the 2023-2024 school year began. 

This action, the suit claims, caused “tremendous anxiety, stress, and consternation for teachers, parents, and students alike across Arkansas” and ultimately resulted in the deletion of the AP course code from the state course catalog. 

The “attack,” plaintiffs add, has since started a chain reaction of constitutional, economic and physical harms, the complaint alleges. 

“The Black community in Arkansas has a decades-long history of fighting for equitable education,”  said Barry Jefferson, president of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP. “Let’s not forget — it was Arkansas children who shouldered the responsibility of integrating our nation’s schools. Nearly 7 decades later, we carry the torch by fighting for the right for that history to be taught.”

In addition to the complaint, the plaintiffs have called on the federal court to enact an injunction to prevent the LEARNS Act from being enforced while the case is litigated.

“The recent enactment of this legislation and discriminatory treatment of AP African American studies are an unconstitutional attempt to erode educational equity within our state,” Jefferson said. “But we know we’re not alone, and we’re determined to ensure the sacrifices of yesterday are not held in vain as we look toward the prospects of tomorrow.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “NAACP Jumps into Legal Fray Against Arkansas to Take on Anti-DEI Efforts Head On”
  1. Do you think the state of Arkansas will respond to these allegations regarding the underfunding and inequitable treatment of the AP African American Studies course?

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