Library book challenges in Georgia’s Forsyth County Schools may have created a “hostile environment for students,” Department of Education investigators said in the agency’s first foray into the recent wave of book bans buffeting K12.
The department’s Office for Civil Rights stepped in when participants at school board meeting complained that the district’s library book screening process was discriminatory based on sex, race, color, and national origin. Investigators found that Forsyth County Schools’ response was not sufficient to “ameliorate any resultant racially and sexually hostile environment,” the department said in announcing a resolution of the complaint.
“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 Office for Civil Rights found. “Indeed, one student commented at a district school board meeting about the school environment becoming more harsh in the aftermath of the book removals and his fear about going to school.”
students expressing similar views.
In January 2022, Forsyth County Schools removed eight books from its media centers due to “sexually explicit content.” The titles included The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, Looking for Alaska by John Green, Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez and Me Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews, the Forsyth County News reported.
That removal process began when a parent complained about content in the books, according to the Forsyth County News.
The Office for Civil Rights acknowledged that the district’s review committee “rejected suggestions to handle challenged books in ways that it believed would target certain groups of students.” The district also posted statements on its media center websites that the resources provided in its libraries should reflect the students in each school community.
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The committee also asked families to talk to their children about not checking out books that do not match their values or beliefs.
The resolution of the civil rights complaint now requires Forsyth County Schools to issue a statement to students explaining the library book removal process and to offer support to students who have been impacted. This includes explaining that the removal of the eight books in January 2022 was based solely on “sexually explicit content” and that future screenings will consider whether books “promote diversity by including materials about and by authors and illustrators of all cultures.”
Each Forsyth County middle and high school will also conduct a climate to determine whether additional steps need to be taken to ensure students do not feel discriminated against when books are challenged and reviewed.