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Dept. of Ed Charges Georgia Book Removal May Violate Civil Rights

In a move that could affect how schools handle book challenges, the federal government has concluded that a Georgia school district’s removal of titles with Black and LGBTQ characters may have created a “hostile environment” for students, potentially violating their civil rights.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights released its findings in a letter Friday wrapping up its investigation into Forsyth County Schools’ 2022 decision to pull nearly a dozen books from shelves after parents complained of titles’ sexual and LGBTQ content. To resolve the investigation, the district north of Atlanta agreed to offer “supportive measures” to students affected by the book removals and to administer a school climate survey, per the letter.

Forsyth schools spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo wrote in a statement Monday that the district’s “implementation of the [department’s] recommendations … will further our mission to provide an unparalleled education for all to succeed.”

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon said in a statement she is pleased that Forsyth County Schools is taking “appropriate action regarding acts of harassment.”

The outcome in the Georgia case could affect how administrators in other districts and states manage book-removal requests. It comes as the country faces a historic rise in attempts to pull books from school libraries and classrooms. The majority of such challenges — which began to spike shortly after the coronavirus pandemic ignited culture wars in education — target books that deal with race, racism, and LGTBQ characters and themes, the American Library Association and free-expression advocacy group PEN America have repeatedly found.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is separately investigating a Texas school district for yanking books with LGBTQ content last year. The outcome of that case, based on a complaint filed by the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, will determine the validity of the ACLU’s novel legal argument that not representing students in schoolbooks can constitute discrimination. If the Biden administration finds in the ACLU’s favor, it could force districts nationwide to stock more titles featuring LGBTQ characters.

The Georgia ruling, although less far-reaching in its implications, is “a quiet shot over the bow against school districts that egregiously and without due process remove books from library shelves,” said Bruce Fuller, who studies education policy at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Education. “When students are struggling with these issues of identity, and you ban books that are speaking to these kids, that does appear to violate the spirit of the letter of the civil rights law.”

Read entire article at Washington Post