Tennessee Education Association v. Reynolds
DATE FILED: July 26, 2023
Tennessee’s largest teachers’ organization and five educators are challenging a ban on “Prohibited Concepts” in K-12 classrooms as unconstitutional.


The ban puts teachers in an impossible position and deprives students of a quality education, according to the Tennessee Education Association.


The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) and five public school teachers are suing state education officials to challenge the constitutionality of Tennessee Public Chapter No. 493, known as the Prohibited Concepts Ban. According to the TEA, “the law prohibits teaching of core subjects in Tennessee State Standards, which puts teachers in an impossible position and deprives students of a quality education.”

The Ban prohibits the “inclu[sion] or promot[ion]” of fourteen “prohibited concepts” dealing with race, gender, and other subjects in Tennessee’s K-12 public school classrooms. As a result, according to the complaint:

  • In Tipton County, one school has replaced an annual field trip to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis with a trip to a baseball game.
  • In Shelby County, a choir director fears that his decades-long practice of teaching his students to sing and understand the history behind spirituals sung by enslaved people will be perceived as “divisive” or otherwise violative of the Ban.
  • In Blount County, a 45-year veteran of Tennessee public schools was entangled in months of administrative proceedings, with her job on the line, because of a single parent’s complaint about an award-winning work of young adult literature that the Tennessee Department of Education approved and the local elected school board adopted as part of the district’s curriculum.

The Ban is unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as alleged in the lawsuit. Under the law, “one parent can put an educator’s job, reputation, and career at risk for doing precisely what she was hired to do,” as alleged in the complaint. And, “contrary to [Tennessee’s] exemplary standards,” according to the complaint, “the Ban stifles the spirit of inquiry and understanding in Tennessee public K-12 classrooms by prohibiting discussion of’ concepts’ that are inextricable from the history of the State of Tennessee, our nation, and the world.”

In the lawsuit, TEA and the educators are seeking a permanent injunction to stop enforcement of the Ban, and a declaration that the Ban is unconstitutional, among other remedies.


The educators are represented pro bono by Free + Fair, Davis Polk, and Bass, Berry & Sims.



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