school classroom

Black Emergency Response Team v. O'Connor

Status: Ongoing
Last Update: October 29, 2021

What's at Stake

This lawsuit challenges an Oklahoma classroom censorship law, HB 1775, that severely restricts public school teachers and students from teaching and learning about race and gender.

On October 19, 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oklahoma, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and pro bono counsel Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP filed a this lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs the Black Emergency Response Team (BERT); the University of Oklahoma Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (OU-AAUP); the Oklahoma State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP-OK); the American Indian Movement (AIM) Indian Territory on behalf of itself and its members who are public school students and teachers; a high school student; and Oklahoma public high school teachers Anthony Crawford and Regan Killackey. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.

HB 1775’s lead authors in the state legislature declared that the act’s intent was to prohibit conversations related to “implicit bias,” “systemic racism,” and “intersectionality,” among other concepts. Our lawsuit argues that HB 1775 unlawfully restrains freedom of expression by silencing educators’ speech through its viewpoint-discriminatory, vague, and overbroad terms and that it abridges students’ right to receive information about the banned concepts for no legitimate pedagogical purpose, in violation of the First Amendment. The act also intentionally targets and denies access to equitable, culturally relevant teaching and ideas that reflect the history and lived experiences of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color; women and girls; and 2sLGBTQ+ students.

On June 14, 2024, the district court blocked some of HB 1775’s provisions while the lawsuit remains pending. The decision halts enforcement of the law’s prohibition on university orientations that address racism or sexism, as well as two provisions limiting K-12 instruction. The court affirmed that these provisions are so vague educators could not know with any reasonable certainty what material they cover. The court also provided much-needed clarity on some provisions it did not enjoin, clearing the way for teachers in K-12 to discuss issues related to sexism and racism without endorsing concepts that HB 1775 purports to ban. This decision provides relief by blunting the law’s on-the-ground impact while our plaintiffs continue to fight for it to be struck down in full.

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