Equity & Diversity

The Evolution of the Anti-CRT Movement: A Timeline

By Eesha Pendharkar — December 13, 2022 5 min read
People protest outside the offices of the New Mexico Public Education Department's office in November 2021, in Albuquerque. The demonstrators were protesting proposed changes to the state's social studies curriculum that they deemed as "critical race theory."
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Dozens of state laws restricting lessons on race and racism. School policies restricting transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students from participating in sports, using bathrooms aligned to their identities, and being addressed by their preferred pronouns. And thousands of books removed from classroom and library shelves.

The backlash to expanding diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts started in 2020, but has split and spiraled over the course of two years into several initiatives that impact students’ schooling experiences. Both at the state and district levels, these efforts have been driven primarily by Republican lawmakers and right-wing groups who claim books and lessons about LGBTQ topics are inappropriate and that lessons on race and racism can teach white students to “hate themselves.”

How did we get here? This timeline traces the growth of the current movement to limit what gets taught, discussed, or read on controversial topics in the nation’s schools

Trump executive order - September 2020

Former President Donald Trump’s executive order banning some types of diversity training for federal employees was the origin for the list of eight “divisive concepts,” later seen in dozens of bills and laws restricting lessons on race and racism. Although the executive order was revoked by President Joe Biden, the language remains widely adopted by Republican lawmakers, and in state legislation, across the country.

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Bullhead City, Ariz. Three civil rights groups are filing a lawsuit challenging Trump’s executive order that banned federal agencies, as well as contractors and grant recipients, from offering certain diversity training which the president has deemed “anti-American.”The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed the complaint Thursday, Oct. 29, in federal court in Washington, D.C., along with the National Urban League and the National Fair Housing Alliance.

First wave of divisive concepts laws - May 2021

The first three divisive concepts laws were passed in Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas in May 2021. The early versions of the laws all included similar language, banning teachers from teaching that students should feel guilt or anguish on account of their race or sex, or that anyone was inherently racist or sexist. Lawmakers suggested that teachers who discuss racism in history or in contemporary times are practicing “critical race theory.”

Educators lost jobs in anti-CRT backlash - August 2021

As the backlash against lessons on race and racism escalated, educators started losing their jobs. James Whitfield, a principal in the Grapevine-Colleyville district in Texas was put on administrative leave after he wrote that racism is “alive and well” in a letter to his school community following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. .

Matthew Hawn, a teacher in Tennessee, was fired from Sullivan County Schools for teaching white privilege as a fact, just a few days before the state passed its divisive concepts law. Hawn appealed the decision to his school board and lost.

Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn's appeal continued August 17, 2021 at the Sullivan County Department of Education in Blountsville, Tenn.

First lawsuit - Arizona Sept 2021

Just days before Arizona’s divisive concepts law was about to go into effect, a county judge ruled that it violated the state’s constitution, as it was vaguely written and tucked into a broader budget bill. Arizona’s supreme court later upheld that decision, making the state’s challenge the first and only successful one to block divisive concepts laws from impacting schools. A handful of other states have followed Arizona’s lead and are either awaiting a decision or have had their cases dismissed.

Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill passes - March 2022

In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the Parental Rights in Education law, which is called the “Don’t Say Gay” law by its opponents because it restricts LGBTQ students and teachers from talking about their identities in classrooms. The law bans education about sexual orientation and gender identity for elementary students and requires that secondary school students are taught about these topics in a “developmentally appropriate” way, as defined by the state. The law has spurred many copycat bills across the country.

Marchers wave flags as they walk at the St. Pete Pier during a rally and march to protest against a bill dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill on March 12, 2022, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Florida lawmakers have passed the bill, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. It now moves to the desk of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.

Book bans - April 2022

Starting in the later half of 2021, parents’ complaints at school board meetings started shifting from lessons on race and racism to books about those topics, or books with LGBTQ characters. As of April, two million students in 86 school districts across the country have had their access to books restricted because of book bans put in place this school year, according to the first report tracking book bans nationwide. Challenges to books and their removals from library shelves escalated rapidly through 2022.

A display of banned books is in a Barnes & Noble book store in Pittsford, New York, on Sunday, September 25, 2022.

Oklahoma districts’ accreditation docked - August 2022

Two districts in Oklahoma—Tulsa and Mustang—saw their accreditation downgraded by the state board of education after the state said they had violated the state’s divisive concepts law through professional development lessons for educators on inherent bias, in Tulsa’s case, or in Mustang’s case, through classroom exercises meant to help students understand their similarities and differences. This was the first instance of a district’s accreditation being impacted by an anti-CRT law, and the board’s choice of punishment was harsher than the one recommended by state rules.

Virginia anti-transgender law - September 2022

Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, was accused of restricting the rights of transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming students when he introduced a policy that requires teachers to not hide information about a student’s gender identity from their parents, use a student’s sex assigned at birth and their legal name according to school records, even if the student or their parent requests otherwise. The policy also requires transgender students to use bathrooms and play on sports teams that are aligned with their sex assigned at birth as opposed to their gender identity. Virginia’s policy will affect hundreds of districts because it requires them to comply.

Right-wing groups influence school board elections - November 2022

Moms for Liberty, a right-wing group based in Florida, started promoting school board candidates who will push a conservative agenda in schools this year. They also released a pledge on their website that candidates could take in order to get an endorsement from the rapidly growing group, which has supported book bans across the country. Moms for Liberty endorsed 500 school board candidates across the country this year, 49 percent of whom won, according to NBC News. In some of those districts, such as Charleston and Berkeley, in South Carolina, the election of far-right members to school boards in November led to the firing of superintendents and other drastic changes.

Protesters hold signs at a Moms for Liberty rally at the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on October 9, 2021. About 100 people attended the rally to protest mask and vaccine mandates.

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