As students return for a new school year, one Alabama group is working to show state officials how it says public school teachers are teaching inappropriate and unlawful content.
This school year will be the first since Alabama lawmakers prohibited some public school teachers from instructing or holding classroom discussions about gender identity or sexual orientation. Under the new law, educators, if they need to talk about sex or gender, should stick to “developmentally appropriate” content.
And while state education officials contend that teachers are not crossing that line, LOCAL Alabama, a political advocacy group, says otherwise.
“We heard from a number of parents that things were in fact being taught by teachers and school counselors in spite of the official stance of the state,” said Allison Sinclair, a member of LOCAL Alabama. “Rather than operate off of rumors and speculation, we decided to collect specific, documentable examples to confirm what we were hearing.”
Sinclair, whose children attend public school, declined to specify how many examples her group has collected so far. She said most examples are in one of three of the categories listed on the form: Divisive concepts or critical race theory, comprehensive sexuality education and sexually explicit content.
A form posted on LOCAL Alabama’s website asks parents to submit examples of inappropriate materials and to identify the teacher and the school.
The group, which formed in September 2021 as a 501(c)4 organization, has held meetings to discuss concerns about social emotional learning.
Sinclair co-hosts a podcast sponsored by a subsidiary of the Alabama Policy Institute. She said LOCAL is not connected to the institute, which also has opposed schools teaching so-called critical race theory, divisive concepts and social emotional learning in the past year.
On its website, LOCAL Alabama states it seeks to “provide and promote conservative solutions to issues in our communities by engaging local and state entities such as local school boards, parent teacher organizations, county commissions, city councils and state legislatures.”
Sinclair said the group will present the information they gather to the Alabama Board of Education and Attorney General Steve Marshall but is waiting to see what kind of examples the group might receive when school starts back.
“We’d like to have the most current information to share with school officials,” she added.
State Superintendent Eric Mackey has acknowledged there are a few cases every year where a teacher is accused of stepping outside of teaching the state’s standards, but those types of cases are generally handled at the local school board level and are not widespread.
Mackey said he thinks some people are confused about what the board’s ban actually covers. In February, he told a legislative committee that he had gotten phone calls challenging the recognition of Black History Month.
AL.com in June 2021 found just two people had emailed Mackey with concerns about critical race theory being taught in Alabama’s schools prior to the state board’s first discussion about banning the topic.
A second request for state department emails through March found both support for and concern about teaching critical race theory in public schools. It was unclear in some cases whether the author had a child in public school.
For example, one person wrote that her neighbor’s fourth grade son was required to read “My Brother Martin,” a book about Martin Luther King Jr., which she objected to because it “portrayed white as evil.”
Emails like those are handled on a case-by-case basis, Mackey said, but if a concern is raised about curricular materials or something a teacher said or did, generally the state department will go back to local school officials first to allow them to weigh in.
Sinclair said she is looking to both the Alabama Board of Education and the Attorney General’s office for remedies.
She pointed to social media posts from Attorney General Steve Marshall’s campaign accounts where he said he will “not rest until the children of Alabama are safe” from Critical Race Theory, which he said is “Marxist ideology.”
When asked what role the Attorney General’s office could play when a teacher is found to have violated the board’s rules on teaching banned topics, Attorney General Communications Director Mike Lewis wrote, “Concerned citizens are always free to contact our office with any concerns they may have .”
According to Mackey, parents with concerns about materials or instruction their child has received should first contact local school officials.
Working with local officials is the right place to start, Alabama Education Association Executive Director Amy Marlowe said.
“AEA supports and encourages parental involvement in our local schools,” she said, “and with the new school year beginning, we know Alabama educators will continue to have strong working relationships with their student’s parents.”
Marlowe said a few accusations of teaching “outside of the curriculum” have been made, and she believes officials handle them as they arise.
“As always, AEA stands ready to protect the rights of education employees and will not hesitate to represent our members if issues arise,” she added.
Mackey said violating either the state board’s resolution banning the teaching of divisive concepts or the state law banning discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity with elementary aged students could be a violation of the Educator Code of Ethics or the Alabama Core Teaching Standards.
If a local board takes action against the teacher, the case would be sent to the Alabama Department of Education to investigate and possibly take action, including placing restrictions on their teaching certificate or starting procedures to revoke their teaching certificate.
The Alabama Board of Education, charged with creating rules for implementing the new law restricting elementary classroom instruction and discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation, announced the new rules in July and will adopt the final rules at its September meeting.
Read more: Alabama to apply ‘age appropriate’ limit to LGBTQ school instruction this fall
This is the second round of restrictions on public school teachers: the first came last August when the Alabama Board of Education passed a resolution to prohibit educators from teaching divisive concepts or “indoctrinate students in social or political ideologies or theories that promote one race or sex above another.”