After a recent investigation conducted pursuant to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) expressed its concern that a racially and sexually hostile environment may have arisen as a result of the media center book screening process implemented by the Forsyth County Schools in Cummings, Georgia (the “District”) and that the District may have failed to ameliorate such hostile environment. Given the influx of school library book challenges across the country, OCR’s response in this case may be informative for those with questions about important considerations when addressing requests to remove books and other materials from school libraries.
In late 2021, the District received numerous complaints from parents and community members about books in media centers and classroom libraries (“school libraries”) that included (1) sexually explicit content and (2) LGBTQI+ content, some of which overlapped. The District’s Media Committee considered and rejected requests to (1) allow parents to provide permission to check out these books and (2) shelve LGBTQI+ books separately or put stickers on such books. The Media Committee instead approved a statement to be posted on the media centers’ webpages, which explained that the District’s media centers provide resources that reflect all students and that if families preferred that a child not check out a library book they should discuss it with their children.
In January 2022, the Superintendent authorized, and the District removed from various school libraries, books it considered to be sexually explicit or pornographic. The District did not review or remove books based on LGBTQI+ content.
During a subsequent board of education meeting, several parents and students commented on the book removals. Some parents called for the removal of additional books, with most comments focusing on sexually explicit content, while others sought the removal of books for reasons related to gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Some parents also made negative comments about diversity and inclusion or critical race theory. The students’ comments reflected their concerns that the District had removed books based on the authors’ and/or characters’ gender identity, sexual orientation, race or color. Some students spoke about the negative impact of book removals on the school environment, particularly for LGBTQI+ students and students of color.
Ultimately, OCR expressed its concern that the District took “insufficient” steps to ameliorate the racially and sexually hostile environment that may have resulted from the book screening process. As such, OCR determined that a resolution agreement would be appropriate to resolve the issues OCR had identified. Among other actions, the District agreed to issue a statement to students in the District explaining the book removal process, acknowledging that “the environment surrounding the removal of books may have impacted students,” and offering supportive measures to students who may have been impacted by the book removal process.
More information related to this OCR investigation can be found in the following links:
- U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Resolves Investigation of the Removal of Library Books in Forsyth County Schools in Georgia
Please reach out to any member of our team with questions regarding book challenges and book removals in schools. Our team is also happy to discuss and/or review board of education policies or grievance procedures concerning this topic.