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Texas schools can still teach the works of Martin Luther King Jr.
If Your Time is short
- Texas Gov. Abbott signed SB 3 in September 2021, which dropped history requirements including the requirement to teach Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech
- However, the requirement remains in state curriculum standards set by the State Board of Education
Martin Luther King Jr. Day came with a flurry of social media attention on whether Texas schools can teach the works of the civil rights leader the holiday celebrates.
When Gov. Greg Abbott on Jan. 16 tweeted a post honoring King’s "life and legacy," a Democratic strategist retweeted it with a message that seemed to call the governor out as a hypocrite."You signed a bill last year eliminating the requirement for Texas schools to teach about MLK’s ‘I have a dream’ speech," wrote Sawyer Hackett, a senior adviser to 2020 presidential candidate Julian Castro according to Hackett’s Twitter bio.
Hackett’s tweet gained over nine million views — and we saw a similar tweet the same day by another author who went even further, falsely suggesting Texas makes it "illegal" to teach King’s works.
So what did Abbott do? And are Texas schools allowed to teach King’s speech?
To clear up the confusion, we reached out to Hackett. We learned he was basing his claim on the discussions around Senate Bill 3, a bill Texas lawmakers passed in the second special session of 2021.
But we found his statement lacks context about the legislation. The state curriculum still requires students to learn about King’s famous speech, delivered on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Hackett responded to our request for sources with links to the Texas Tribune, Salon, CBS Austin, Truthout, The Nation, and a San Antonio Express-News link to that Texas Tribune article.
These articles describe lawmakers’ discussions and subsequent laws from the 2021 legislative session.
House Bill 3979, approved in the 2021 regular session, required schools to teach specific aspects of history, historical figures and documents, including the writings of and about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings.
It also required schools to teach King’s "I Have a Dream" speech and "Letter from Birmingham Jail."The bill created specific curriculum requirements for social studies, even though Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) already sets the state’s curriculum standards and requires students to learn about King in elementary school and civil rights in Texas in middle school.
In a special session later in 2021, lawmakers undid what they’d passed in the regular session. They passed Senate Bill 3, which replaced HB 3979 and did away with its curriculum requirements. This new bill clarified that it was up to the State Board of Education to make curriculum-specific decisions. Though teaching King’s works wouldn’t be required by state law set by the Legislature, the requirement is in state administrative code and SB 3 doesn’t preclude school districts from teaching the civil rights leader’s teachings.
Abbott’s press secretary, Andrew Mahaleris, said SB 3, which Abbott signed Sept. 17, 2021, explicitly stated the removal of historical figures from state code could not be used as a reason for the State Board of Education to remove them from state curriculum.
Chloe Latham Sikes, deputy director of policy at the San Antonio-based Intercultural Development Research Association, said HB 3979 was an unusual effort in that it’s been historically uncommon for lawmakers to make such specific requirements for education curriculum. Although legislators can make broad legislation on Texas schools’ curriculum, the State Board of Education usually handles the minutiae.
Latham Sikes noted that "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and the "I Have a Dream" speech are already included in high school U.S. History lessons as per state curriculum requirements.
Kelsey Kling, a policy analyst for the union Texas American Federation of Teachers, said the State Board of Education is empowered by administrative code to set curriculum standards.
"It looks like it was added and taken away in statute, where it always existed in code," Kling said. "I can’t imagine it not existing in our administrative code, the requirement to teach certain aspects of his life and writings and teachings."
In short, it is legal for Texas schools to teach King’s works. A requirement to teach the "I Have a Dream" speech was removed from state legislation, but it exists in state education standards.
Nothing bars Texas schools from teaching students about King’s legacy, Kling said.
Hackett said Abbott "signed a bill last year eliminating the requirements for Texas schools to teach King’s "I Have a Dream" speech.
On Sept. 17, 2021, Abbott signed SB 3, which replaced an earlier law that specifically called for schools to teach King’s famous address.
But Hackett’s assertion lacks significant context: SB 3 replaced a short-lived law. And it did not strip from schools the requirement to teach King’s speech. The address is part of the state’s curriculum standards set by the State Board of Education and it remains so today.
The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.
Tweet by user @SawyerHackett, Jan. 16, 2023
Tweet by user @ZachWLambert, Jan. 16, 2023
Twitter message from Sawyer Hackett, @SawyerHackett, Feb. 9, 2023
Phone interview with Kelsey Kling, government relations specialist and policy analyst for Texas American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, Jan. 24, 2023
Phone interview with Chloe Latham Sikes, deputy director of policy at Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), Jan. 23, 2023
Emails from Chloe Latham Sikes, deputy director of policy at Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), Feb. 9, 2023
Texas Education Agency, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies, Subchapter A. Elementary, August 2020 update
Texas Education Agency, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies, Subchapter B. Middle School, August 2019 update
Texas Education Agency, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Social Studies, Subchapter C. High School, August 2022 update
Texas Legislature, Senate Bill 3, Second Special Session 2021
IDRA, Senate Bill 3 Strikes Learning Standards and Censors Classroom Conversations, September 2021
Email statement from Gov. Greg Abbott's press secretary Andrew Mahaleris, Feb. 9, 2023
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Texas schools can still teach the works of Martin Luther King Jr.
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