In one of the first rulings of its kind, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has issued a ruling against a school district in Georgia that banned books about race, gender, and LGBTQ topics.
The government’s investigation found that the district’s removal of books from schools created a hostile environment for students based on sex and gender under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and race, color, or national origin under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to the ruling.
“OCR has a concern the District received notice that its media center book screening process may have created a hostile environment for students, yet the District’s responsive steps related to the book screening process were not designed to, and were insufficient to, ameliorate any resultant racially and sexually hostile environment,” the letter reads.
Since 2021, Forsyth County Schools has been at the center of a contentious book banning fight where books with themes related to sex, gender, and race have been censored and removed from schools.
John Chrastka, founder of the public and political support nonprofit EveryLibrary Institute, told Motherboard that this kind of investigation by the Department of Education investigation is significant, and comes after a series of federal lawsuits which argued that school book bans violate the First Amendment.
“In [Island Trees School District v.] Pico, the Supreme Court recognized the First Amendment right of students to read,” Chrastka told Motherboard. “Extending protections under Title IX for sexual and gender minorities’ access to school libraries would further strengthen and support the dignity and rights of every student.”
The letter points out that in 2022, the district formed a book review committee that helped reinstate some books in question to school library shelves. However, the OCR letter notes the committee lacked LGBTQ representation.
A chief spokesperson for Forsyth County Schools told Motherboard that the district will comply with federal, state, and local board policies and procedures as they relate to media center materials.
“Forsyth County Schools is committed to providing a safe, connected, and thriving community for all students and their families,” Jennifer Caracciolo, Forsyth County Schools’ chief communications officer, told Motherboard in a statement. “With the implementation of the OCR’s recommendations, we will further our mission to provide an unparalleled education for all to succeed.”
According to the resolution agreement, the OCR has ordered the district to complete a number of tasks in an effort to correct its behavior. This includes conducting student outreach about book reconsiderations, administering a climate survey, putting together a working group to create a climate improvement plan for impacted schools, and meeting strict deadlines.