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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana AG Opinion Says Schools Are Prohibited From Teaching Critical Race Theory

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen issued an opinion May 27 claiming public schools are prohibited by state and federal law from teaching certain aspects of critical race theory, which says systemic racism is ingrained in American life and law. Some say the opinion is largely symbolic, as other leaders in Republican-controlled states condemn critical race theory.

Knudsen’s opinion cites anecdotes from across the country that critical race theory forces white students to say they should be ashamed for being white. He says teaching critical race theory in that way would violate state and federal civil rights laws.

Lance Melton with the Montana School Board Association says he’s seen no evidence of Knudsen’s alleged impact of teaching race theory happening in Montana. Melton says Knudsen’s opinion acknowledges it doesn’t prevent schools from teaching critical race theory.

University of Montana Law Professor Anthony Johnstone says the attorney general has no authority to punish schools he thinks are violating students’ rights by teaching critical race theory.

“It’s going to be decided, if at all, on a case by case basis in the appropriate agencies and before the appropriate courts.”

Knudsen in his opinion says his office stands ready to assist families with filing complaints to the appropriate state or federal agencies. He also encouraged parents to file lawsuits directly against school districts. 

Attorney General Knudsen was not made available for an interview by deadline.

Earlier this month, Montana Office of Public Instruction Superintendent Elsie Arntzen asked Knudsen to weigh in on the legality of teaching critical race theory in Montana public schools.

Aaron graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Journalism in 2015 after interning at Minnesota Public Radio. He landed his first reporting gig in Wrangell, Alaska where he enjoyed the remote Alaskan lifestyle and eventually moved back to the road system as the KBBI News Director in Homer, Alaska. He joined the MTPR team in 2019. Aaron now reports on all things in northwest Montana and statewide health care.
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