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Lawsuit challenges Oklahoma ban on teaching race theory

OKLAHOMA CITY — A group of Oklahoma students and educators on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a law that bans the teaching of certain concepts of race and racism.

The law, HB 1775, also prevents colleges and universities from requiring students to undergo gender or sexual diversity training.

The American Civil Liberties Union and others filed the lawsuit on behalf of the group that also includes the American Indian Movement and the Oklahoma State Conference of the NAACP.

“H.B. 1775 severely restricts discussions on race and gender in Oklahoma’s elementary, secondary, and higher education schools without any legitimate pedagogical justification, using language that is simultaneously sweeping and unclear,” according to the lawsuit.

The law is "a direct attack on the education experience of the Black community specifically, and marginalized communities at large on campus,” said Lilly Amechi, a member of the Black Emergency Response Team, a group of Black student leaders at the University of Oklahoma.

Plaintiff Regan Killacky is an English teacher in the Edmond school district in suburban Oklahoma City.

“H.B. 1775 limits my ability to teach an inclusive and complete history within the walls of my classroom, ultimately restricting the exact type of learning environment all young people deserve," said Killacky, who is identified in the lawsuit as white.

The GOP-backed bill prohibits the teaching of “critical race theory" and was passed by the Republican majority Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt this year. The hard-to-define theory centers on the idea that racism is systemic in U.S. institutions, many of which function to maintain white dominance in society.

“It’s par for the course that when something goes against the left’s liberal agenda, activist groups attempt to come into Oklahoma and challenge our laws and our way of life,” Stitt spokesperson Carly Atchison said in a statement. “Governor Stitt stands by his decision to sign HB 1775.”

Republican-controlled legislatures in more than a dozen states have considered or signed into law bills that would limit the teaching of certain ideas linked to “critical race theory,” which seeks to reframe the narrative of American history.

Oklahoma's legislation was sponsored by Republican Rep. Kevin West, who said the law is “common sense” and guarantees that history taught in schools does not shame children into taking the blame for past problems.

“It is unfortunate, but not surprising, to see radical leftist organizations supporting the racist indoctrination of our children that HB 1775 was written to stop,” West said in a statement.

The lawsuit asks the federal court in Oklahoma City for a temporary injunction and to declare the law unconstitutional.

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