New MAP Report: 59 million youth live in states with school censorship and hostile school climate bills in recent years

In recent years, a growing number of states have considered or passed legislation that censors discussions of race and LGBTQ people in schools and that creates a hostile climate for students. Among these political attacks are attempting to ban critical race theory and Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, but it doesn’t end there.

MAP’s newest report, Curriculum Censorship & Hostile School Climate Bills, examines this concerning the wave of state bills and makes clear that these are coordinated efforts to radically undermine public education in this country. Released in partnership with the Equality Federation, the report highlights that from 2020 to 2021 these kinds of bills nearly quadrupled in number and were considered in nearly every state.

Over 59 million young people live in the 42 states that considered these kinds of bills in the previous two years. Even when those bills did not become law, the public debate about them causes harm. According to a 2021 national survey from The Trevor Project, two-thirds (66%) of LGBTQ youth said their mental health was negatively impacted by recent state legislative debates about transgender people.

As of March 2022, at least 280 hostile school climate and curriculum censorship bills have been introduced — more than in the previous two years combined.

About These Bills

Curriculum Censorship Bills, including So-Called “Don’t Say Gay” Bills and Bans on Critical Race Theory

School censorship bills ban or severely limit what schools can teach about race, racism, history, sexism, and LGBTQ people and issues. These bills also vary widely from state to state.

Some of these bills would give politicians veto power over school curricula that discuss the Holocaust or the contributions of Black Americans to U.S. history or allow parents to sue schools if LGBTQ issues are discussed.

Hostile School Climate Bills

A growing number of states have also considered or passed bills that undermine a safe, supportive school environment for all students, and especially for LGBTQ youth.

Hostile school climate bills take many forms, including requiring teachers and school administrators to “out” an LGBTQ student to their parents, even if the teacher believes the student could be kicked out of their home, face physical or verbal abuse, or be subjected to harmful conversion “therapy.”

Other bills would ban transgender athletes from school sports, roll back nondiscrimination protections, and restrict the use of a student’s chosen pronoun — all of which put transgender and nonbinary students at increased risk of harassment and exclusion.

These bills create a wide range of penalties, including a school losing funding and allowing a parent to sue a school if they disagree with the curriculum.

Especially in advance of the 2022 midterms, and with the 2024 presidential race just around the corner, these bills turn schools into a political battlefield and put partisan interests ahead of the best interests of children.

More about the scope and harms of these bills:

In 2020 and 2021, at least 30 states considered curriculum censorship bills that would ban or severely limit what schools can teach or discuss about race, ethnicity, and LGBTQ people:

  • Bills in at least 26 of those states were focused on banning classroom discussions of race and history, with ten states passing them into law.
  • Bills in at least 14 of those states considered “Don’t Say Gay” and other related legislation that specifically seeks to censor discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity, ban LGBTQ-inclusive books or materials, and more.
  • Many of these bills generally include broad language banning “divisive concepts” or simply a list of prohibited ideas about race and history — sometimes explicitly including slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.

In 2020 to 2021, at least 40 states also considered hostile school climate bills:

This includes bills banning transgender students from playing sports according to their gender identity — and the number of these bills more than tripled from 2020 to 2021, with many states continuing to introduce these bills in 2022.

“The politicians and groups behind these bills want to use our laws to control what students can and cannot read, what they can and cannot learn, and — most troublingly — who they can and cannot be. Our schools should protect all students — including LGBTQ students and students of color — so they can learn and thrive in a safe environment,” said Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of MAP.

America is a country of freedom of speech and freedom of ideas. Those freedoms end when politicians start banning books and censoring curricula simply because some people find them uncomfortable. All kids deserve an education that is honest, accurate and gives them the tools to learn from our past so they can help create a better future.

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Movement Advancement Project

Movement Advancement Project

MAP is an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all.