Tennessee became one of the states passing laws against teaching CRT in K-12 education in May, shortly after Idaho passed their law. The Department of Education still has a strong dedication to equitable outcomes. Despite no CRT mandates at the state level for public institutions, Tennessee’s higher education system is infused with CRT at all levels.

Primary Education

In May, Governor Bill Lee signed a bill into law that bans CRT in primary education, upon the penalty of funding cuts:

The Tennessee General Assembly has banned the teaching of critical race theory, passing a law at the very end of the legislative session to withhold funding from public schools that teach about white privilege.

Republicans in the House made the legislation a last-minute priority, introducing provisions that ban schools from instructing students that one race bears responsibility for the past actions against another, that the United States is fundamentally racist or that a person is inherently privileged or oppressive due to their race.

In August, the Tennessee Department of Education released preliminary rules based on the new law:

released 11 pages of guidelines to help districts navigate the new law.

The guidelines also clarify what can and cannot be taught.

For instance, schools cannot teach that one race or sex is inherently superior to another. They also cannot teach that a person “by virtue of their race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”

But the rules say schools can hold impartial discussions on controversial aspects of history.

They can also teach impartial lessons “on the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class, nationality, religion, or geographic region.”

The rules also say only a current student, a parent of a current student, or a current employee can file a complaint if they suspect a teacher is teaching CRT. The complaint must be filed within 30 days.

Decisions issued by local school districts can be appealed to the Tennessee Department of Education, which can withhold funding from school districts found to have violated the law.

For the first violation, the department can withhold two percent of annual state funds or $1 million, whichever is less.

The department can withhold 4 percent of annual state funds or $2 million, whichever is less, for a second violation.

For five or more violations, the department can withhold up to 10 percent of annual state funds or $5 million, whichever is less.

Despite this recent ban, the Tennessee Department of Education still has its Equity Playbook on its website, in which it dedicates all public school systems to equitable outcomes:

The Tennessee Department of Education, in partnership with its 147 districts and 38 educator preparation providers, recognizes the importance of making and supporting significant shifts in mindset and practice to provide and sustain equitable outcomes for all students. This focus on equitable outcomes for all students is reflected in the Tennessee Succeeds and ESSA strategic plans and impact all Tennessee’s districts and schools.

If school, district, and community leaders believe in and take action to create equitable outcomes for all students, then all districts and schools will experience significant, positive shifts for students related to the equity commitments:

  1.   Decrease Chronic Absenteeism
  2.   Reduce Disproportionate Suspension and Expulsion Rates
  3.   Increase Early Postsecondary Opportunities
  4.   Provide Equitable Access to Effective Teachers
  5.   Recruit and Retain a Diverse Teaching Force
  6.   Embed Cultural Competence in School Practices
  7.   Partner with Community Allies

Higher Education

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) appears to have no centrally mandated initiative to teach CRT at the post-secondary level. However, most of its private and public institutions have jumped into CRT with both feet, including mandatory training for faculty and staff, pending changes to the curriculum, and reimagining on-campus policing. See https://criticalrace.org/schools/?state=tennessee for details by institution.