Did Georgia School District’s Book Ban Violate The Civil Rights Act?

Did Georgia School District’s Book Ban Violate The Civil Rights Act?

Last year, a Georgia school district removed eight books from all libraries and media centers after parents deemed them inappropriate for containing sexually explicit material. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) later led an investigation, concluding that the book banning “may have created a hostile environment for students.”

The much-anticipated outcome comes after DOE investigated whether Forsyth County Schools violated the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against students based on sex, race, color, and national origin. As a result, the district north of Atlanta agreed to settle the complaint by offering “supportive measures” to any students that its decisions may have impacted, Fox 5 Atlanta reported. This move could pave the trajectory for the school’s handling of book challenges.

In a resolution agreement, Forsyth outlined its efforts to post statements in locations “readily available to the District’s middle and high school students,” explaining its removal decision-making and outreach to students. They will also conduct its yearly school climate survey with questions that further address the issue, including students’ willingness to report harassment and their perception of each school’s handling of the reports.

As per Axios, the District’s spokesperson Jennifer Caracciolo said they are “committed to providing a safe, connected, and thriving community for all students and their families,” adding that recommendations “will further our mission to provide an unparalleled education.”

According to a Washington Post analysis, three of the original eight removed books focused mainly on characters of color and one on an LGBTQ protagonist. One was identified as Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” which has appeared several times on the American Library Association’s Top 10 Banned Books list for its portrayal of racism, incest, and sexual abuse.

“Administratively we reviewed the books and we have over 500 thousand books in our media centers in Forsyth County Schools,” Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden previously told Channel 2 Action News. He claimed that the banned eight were not “appropriate to be in public schools.”

The DOE documented in its letter that its investigation involved the examination of school  board meetings. One student of Asian descent expressed at a meeting that she struggled in finding books with main characters she can identify with. Another student, who identified as LGBTQI+ said the decision incited fear within and he did not feel safe at his school. The District reports that its enrollment is 49% white, 5% Black, 27% Asian, 15% Hispanic, 4% two or more races, and less than 1% American Indian or Alaska Native and Hawaiian, according to DOE.

“Communications at board meetings conveyed the impression that books were being screened to exclude diverse authors and characters, including people who are LGBTQI+ and authors who are not white, leading to increased fears and possibly harassment,” the department’s letter continued.