HELENA — Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen on Thursday declared that some “anti-racism” programming in schools is a violation of federal law and the state constitution and should not be taught in Montana schools.
The 25-page attorney general’s opinion, issued just two weeks after state Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen requested it, also referenced “Critical Race Theory,” saying its use illegally discriminates based on race.
Critical Race Theory, which teaches that racism can be embedded in legal systems and government policies, has been around for 40 years.
Knudsen said the programs, while supposedly teaching students about the impacts of racism, can actually foster racism themselves, by forcing students to “admit privilege” because of their race or by “race scapegoating,” which is assigning fault to members of a race for oppressive actions against members of another race.
“Committing racial discrimination in the name of ending racial discrimination is both illogical and illegal,” he said in a statement. “It goes against the exceptional principles on which our nation was founded and has no place in our state.”
An attorney general’s opinion in Montana has the force of law, unless it’s overridden in court or by the Legislature.
Knudsen said his office “stands ready” to help school officials, students, parents or others who my file complaints that they’re being subjected to “unlawful, race-based discrimination.”
Arntzen requested the opinion May 12, citing a proposed rule from the Biden administration’s Department of Education for grants to teach history and civics. The proposal said it would give priority to grants that “incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally and linguistically diverse perspectives.”
The proposed rule makes some reference to “anti-racist” programs, but does not mention Critical Race Theory.
In her request, Arntzen said she had “serious concerns” about the effect of such programs on students in Montana. She told MTN News on Thursday that she made the request in part because of concerns raised by parents and educators, and in order to ensure that when race-related elements of U.S. history are taught, students learn "both sides" of the story.
Arntzen said in a news release on Thursday:
I am completely supportive of students learning multiple viewpoints of our history to encourage critical thinking. We do not, and should not, shy away from teaching about complex and difficult episodes in our state’s and nation’s history. In addition, our teachers proudly embrace our robust Indian Education for All, our Montana Constitution’s unique promise which highlights the authentic voice of our first Montanans and which I have amplified throughout all grade levels as part of our revised state standards.
But Critical Race Theory, as we have seen it applied in countless examples across the country, is not critical thinking. It distorts our shared history and too often is used to demean and belittle students based on the color of their skin through segregation, stereotyping, and scapegoating. Discrimination cannot happen in Montana classrooms; not on my watch. I thank Attorney General Knudsen and his staff for their diligent and thorough review of this subject.”
We will post updates if we receive more information.