LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two Arkansas school districts deny some of the state’s claims that they violated Arkansas’ ban on teaching certain things about race and sexuality.
The Pulaski County and Lakeside school districts tell the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that some of the incidents listed on a document circulated to reporters by the state Department of Education either never happened, or do not violate state law.
Lakeside Superintendent Bruce Orr told the newspaper that he met with state Education Secretary Jacob Oliva on Wednesday and that Oliva confirmed the issues attributed to Lakeside were not violations.
“He told me, ‘You do not have any indoctrination violations,’ because that was the first question that I asked him,” Orr said in an interview Friday. “I know what I heard and I am 100% positive about that.”
Department spokesperson Kimberly Mundell denied Friday that any such confirmation was given.
Pulaski County school district spokesperson Jessica Duff said that despite what’s claimed in the list, it’s not true that elementary schools in the district displayed messages on their signs about LGBT Pride month.
Mundell said the document “reflects examples from around the state that were submitted to the department.” She didn’t respond to questions about whether the department stands by the truthfulness of the listed incidents.
Orr wrote an email Thursday to Oliva saying Education Department officials should investigate allegations and determine whether they are true before disseminating them.
A law signed in March by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders prohibits teaching “divisive concepts” about racism and critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. Sanders had banned such teaching in an executive order that she issued on Jan. 10, after being inaugurated. The law also prohibits classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation before fifth grade, similar to a Florida prohibition that critics have called the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The law is part of a broad conservative backlash nationwide about what is taught in school.
Orr said that a picture of a slide in the document had been used in a Lakeside classroom, but said it was taken years before Sanders was inaugurated. She said it would even be legal now because it hews to Arkansas’ frameworks for teaching American history.
“We were told if you teach the frameworks then you’re fine,” Orr said.
Orr said a second picture of a document titled “Sex, Gender & Society” was never used in Lakeside schools.
Pulaski County spokesperson Jessica Duff said that despite what’s claimed in the list, it’s not true that elementary schools in the district displayed messages on their signs about LGBT Pride month in June.
The Education Department document states also states Pulaski County let teachers “hang divisive materials in their classrooms, including the pride flag.”
“This politicized symbol gives students the impression that only one outlook on gender and sexuality is acceptable in schools,” the document states.
Duff said the flags were hanging in classrooms before the first day of school. She also agreed that the district and schools made a social media post affirming gay pride month.
Arkansas State University and the North Little Rock school district were criticized on the list because of a June 9 teacher training on discipline touched on whether participants might harbor unconscious bias against Black people. An Arkansas State employee wrote that the specific training “will not be presented again” according to an email cited by the newspaper.
The list also includes the Fayetteville school district for asking students about their gender or gender identity in a student survey and asking teachers on a training session handout if they rejected “any privileges that come with white racial identity,” and if they were “brave equity warriors.” Sanders criticized the district for the actions in March. Fayetteville district spokesperson Alan Wilbourn said in March that the handout was for self-reflection. He declined further comment Friday.