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Brief Explores Effects of Discriminatory Censorship Laws on K-12 Schools

BOULDER, CO (November 30, 2023) – Summer 2020 witnessed global protests for racial justice. Across the United States, calls to reckon with racism sparked renewed commitments to more inclusive classrooms and curricula. This nationwide turn toward racial justice and inclusion provoked a backlash campaign that has proven even more impactful and resilient.

Among the most alarming repercussions has been the adoption of “discriminatory censorship laws” that attempt to discredit and prevent classroom conversations about racism, gender identity, and other targeted topics. In How Discriminatory Censorship Laws Imperil Public Education, Jonathan Feingold (Boston University School of Law) and Joshua Weishart (West Virginia University College of Law) explore the spread and impact of these laws, observing that—although their language, prohibitions, and penalties vary—all further two common aims: to demean inclusionary values and to deny students access to critical thinking, inquiry, and knowledge about racism, gender identity and other targeted topics.

As of November 2023, at least 21 states and 145 school districts or other local government entities had enacted at least one discriminatory censorship law governing K-12 schools—a total that covers over 1 million educators and roughly half the nation’s 50 million public schoolchildren.

This brief examines existing research on discriminatory censorship laws governing K-12 schools and identifies two pressing threats to public education: the rise of hostile learning environments and the spread of miseducation. Discriminatory censorship laws increase the risk of race- and sex-based harassment and expose educators to formal sanctions and social ostracization. This dynamic fosters a climate of fear and anxiety that effectively coerces teachers to shun critical inquiry related to targeted topics. The result is a curriculum that rejects comprehensive, culturally attentive content and promotes whitewashed and heteronormative narratives of American history and culture.

Even as discriminatory censorship laws have spread throughout the country, increasing evidence confirms that they lack broad public support. Still, popular opinion has proven insufficient to protect educators and students from this coordinated campaign of discriminatory censorship. The brief’s analysis reveals the need to adopt laws, policies, and practices that safeguard public education, protect educators from targeted harassment and retaliation, and promote inclusive, safe learning environments that encourage critical thinking and respect the dignity of all school community members.

Feingold and Weishart provide recommendations for Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, state legislatures, state and local school officials, and advocacy groups, to constructively counter discriminatory censorship by developing a coordinated and committed response that safeguards the promise of public education and empowers educators and institutions to pursue inclusive classrooms and curricula.

Find How Discriminatory Censorship Laws Imperil Public Education, by Jonathan Feingold and Joshua Weishart, at:


This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, sponsors research, produces policy briefs, and publishes expert third-party reviews of think tank reports. NEPC publications are written in accessible language and are intended for a broad audience that includes academic experts, policymakers, the media, and the general public. Our mission is to provide high-quality information in support of democratic deliberation about education policy. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence and support a multiracial society that is inclusive, kind, and just. Visit us at: