In rural New Hampshire, a Spanish teacher took down a “Black Lives Matter” sign in her classroom.
In Lubbock, Texas, a social studies teacher felt that candid political discussions with students were becoming “kind of like a tightrope.”
And in Oklahoma City, a history teacher began to think twice about using the word “white” to describe people who defended slavery.
In February, public-school teachers traditionally shape lessons around Black History Month. But this year, educators in several states are handling their classes a bit more gingerly.
Republican-led legislatures in several states passed laws last year to ban or limit schools from teaching that racism is infused in American institutions. And while students in those states are still learning about activists like Ida B. Wells and Claudette Colvin, and eras like Reconstruction and the civil rights movement, some teachers are also exercising a quiet restraint.
pandemic safety to struggling students to staff shortages.
“I am not going to let any of these laws deter me from the things that I think work best for students,” said Eric Parker, the history teacher in Oklahoma. “But I also enjoy working with students and having a roof over my head.”
Since January 2021, according to a list compiled by Education Week, 37 states have introduced measures to limit how race and discrimination can be taught in public school classrooms, and 14 have imposed laws or rules to enforce these restrictions.
“This legislation is very nebulous,” said Grace Leatherman, the executive director of the National Council for History Education. “There is certainly a chilling effect.”
educators have left or have lost their jobs amid debates over these new laws, there have not been reports of widespread terminations of teachers.
And defenders of the measures say that they are not meant to stifle teachers’ speech.
Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire signed a bill in July that says no public employer should teach that people of any particular race or gender were “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”
“Nothing in this bill prevents schools from teaching any aspect of American history, such as teaching about racism, sexism or slavery,” said Benjamin Vihstadt, a spokesman for the governor.
He added that teachers were “continuing these important lessons during Black History Month — as they should.”
David Bullard, a state senator who sponsored a similar law in Oklahoma, has said that it is “false that the bill prohibits the teaching of racial topics or history.”