Tenn. ‘divisive concept’ bill targeting colleges advances

Mar 21, 2022, 4:36 AM | Updated: 4:41 pm
FILE - The Tennessee House of Representatives meets Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.  ...

FILE - The Tennessee House of Representatives meets Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. A lawsuit backed by the Tennessee Democratic Party seeks to block new redistricting maps for the state House and Senate, arguing Republican lawmakers who drew the maps violated the state Constitution to keep a firm grip on their partisan advantages. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are nearing final passage of legislation that would allow students and staffers to sue public colleges and universities if they feel they’ve been unfairly punished for not accepting “divisive concepts.”

The state Senate passed the bill Monday, following suit after the House approved a similar version earlier this month. However, both GOP-controlled chambers will need to hash out differences on how the bill would be enforced before it could be sent to the desk of Republican Gov. Bill Lee.

The bill is part of a slate of bills Republicans have introduced this year targeting what concepts and issues should be addressed in Tennessee’s education system. This latest measure would prohibit public colleges and universities from punishing students and staffers if they do not agree with certain ideas and open them up to lawsuits if they violate the measure.

“I don’t think what we’ve got in these definitions is exactly clear and I think what it does is invites conflict and invites challenge,” said Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro, who opposed the bill.

Pressed by reporters last month, Sexton declined to give a specific example of a student or staffer who had been harmed for disagreeing with a particular controversial topic. Instead, Sexton said the bill was needed so Tennessee could be “proactive” after hearing of incidents around the country.

McNally has also spoken favorably about the concept, saying professors need to “stick to what they’re supposed to be teaching.”

“I think you need to teach the facts and not editorialize against certain races or beliefs,” McNally told reporters recently.

Last year, Republican lawmakers and Lee approved legislation banning public K-12 schools teaching “critical race theory” in classrooms. The theory, an academic framework about systemic racism, has become a catchall phrase for teaching about race in U.S. history. Penalties included teachers risking losing valuable state funding for violating the law.

The actual texts of that 2021 law and the higher education bill make no mention of critical race theory, but supporters on Monday said the goals of the two measures were the same. Others said the bill didn’t go far enough.

“Some of the training material in this state would not pass this test,” said Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts, who argued a similar ban should be applied to state agencies.

Both the House and Senate versions of the measure identify more than 15 “divisive concepts.” They range from declaring that “one race or sex is inherently superior or inferior to another race or sex” to “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously” to “this state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist.”

If enacted, those who feel the law has been violated “may pursue all equitable or legal remedies that may be available to the individual” in court. However, there is a split between the Senate and House on whether colleges should investigate individual complaints. House members say college officials should do so within 10 days of a complaint being filed while the Senate omits the requirement.

Tennessee recently attracted international attention when a rural school board in McMinn County voted unanimously to remove “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from the district’s curriculum. Around the same time, the affluent Williamson County school board members agreed to remove “Walk Two Moons” — a book depicting an American Indian girl’s search for her mother — after receiving complaints from parents.

At the statehouse, Republican lawmakers this year have already passed the governor’s bill that would require school libraries to post their contents online and regularly review their policies to make sure the materials are “age-appropriate” and “suitable” for the children accessing them.


Jonathan Mattise in Nashville contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - This Sept. 2015, photo provided by NOAA Fisheries shows an aerial view of adult female South...
Associated Press

Researchers: Inbreeding a big problem for endangered orcas

People have taken many steps in recent decades to help the Pacific Northwest's endangered killer whales, which have long suffered from starvation, pollution and the legacy of having many of their number captured for display in marine parks.
17 hours ago
FILE - Hiring signs are displayed at a grocery store in Arlington Heights, Ill., Jan. 13, 2023. Emp...
Associated Press

Pay transparency is spreading. Here’s what you need to know

U.S. employers are increasingly posting salary ranges for job openings, even in states where it’s not required by law, according to analysts with several major job search websites.
17 hours ago
Meadowdale High School 9th grade students Juanangel Avila, right, and Legacy Marshall, left, work t...
David Klepper and Manuel Valdes, Associated Press

Seattle high school teacher advocates for better digital literacy in schools

Shawn Lee, a high school social studies teacher in Seattle, wants to see lessons on internet akin to a kind of 21st century driver's education, an essential for modern life.
17 hours ago
South Carolina Senators hear from the parents of people who died from fentanyl overdose on Jan. 19,...
Associated Press

With overdoses up, states look at harsher fentanyl penalties

State lawmakers nationwide are responding to the deadliest overdose crisis in U.S. history by pushing harsher penalties for possessing fentanyl and other powerful lab-made opioids that are connected to about 70,000 deaths a year.
17 hours ago
FILE - In this July 3, 2014, file photo, the Microsoft Corp. logo is displayed outside the Microsof...
Associated Press

Microsoft adds AI tools to Office apps like Outlook, Word

Microsoft is infusing artificial intelligence tools into its Office software, including Word, Excel and Outlook emails.
4 days ago
FILE - This photo provided by the Alaska Volcano Observatory/U.S. Geological Survey shows the Tanag...
Associated Press

Alaska volcanoes now pose lower threat, after quakes slow

Diminished earthquake activity led authorities Thursday to reduce the warning levels at two volcanoes on an uninhabited island in Alaska’s Aleutian chain because of the decreased potential for eruptions.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Tenn. ‘divisive concept’ bill targeting colleges advances