ANDERSON TOWNSHIP, Ohio — After parents and students filed a lawsuit against the district on June 29, the Forest Hills School District School Board agreed not to enforce a “Culture of Kindness” resolution that would ban “anti-racist education” as the trial goes through federal court.
The lawsuit named the district, school board members, and Forest Hill’s newly hired superintendent as defendants and asserted that the resolution was unconstitutional.
“The Forest Hills Local School District School Board today agreed with plaintiff’s attorney that the board and administration would refrain from enacting, codifying, reviewing or to the implementation of new policies in relation to the board’s resolution to “create a culture of kindness and equal opportunity for all students and staff,” said a written statement from the district. “Council has agreed to stay each of these actions and allow time for the court to rule on the merits of the case.”
The district went on to say that the school board still intends to “vigorously defend” the validity of the resolution and the school board’s legal authority to pass it. The board of education also plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit altogether “and to ultimately dispose of the case,” the district’s statement read.
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In a press release, the plaintiffs called the stipulation a victory in the fight to have the resolution overturned.
“Our family felt relieved by this news because we were so stressed about how quickly school was starting,” Janielle Davis, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in the press release.
The “Culture of Kindness” resolution passed by a 3-2 vote at a June 22 board meeting. It prohibits assignments where students would have to consider their race, socio-economic class, religion, gender identity or sexuality. It also states that schools cannot force individuals to admit privilege or oppression.
The resolution sparked protests from parents and students, led to a superintendent candidate withdrawing his candidacy, and fueled heated debates and arguments at several school board meetings this year.
“We are pleased that the board has agreed to this stipulation as it recognizes the need for clarity for students, teachers and staff as the new school year is less than a month away,” said Sarah Updike, complainant and teacher in Forest Hills schools. “We believe this is the first step towards repealing this resolution, which clearly contradicts educational best practices and harms students, staff and the community as a whole.”
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At the board meeting where the resolution is passed, school board member Leslie Rasmussen argued that the language of the resolution is vague and could lead to confusion about what is or is not considered appropriate to talk in schools. Rasmussen is still named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but the language in the lawsuit reflects Rasmussen’s concerns aired at the June meeting.
“The resolution is a content-based restriction that prohibits programs, education and training on, among other things, ‘anti-racism’, ‘identity,’ ‘critical race theory’ and ‘the intersectionality”, not only severely restricting but outright prohibiting discussion of such topics in schools in the school district without any legitimate educational purpose, but rather to advance the partisan political agendas of some board members, using language at the extraordinarily broad and vague,” the lawsuit states.
Many of the children listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are students of color or identify as LGBTQ+ and instances of discrimination against children at a Forest Hills school are detailed in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also alleges that the district’s resolution violates students’ and teachers’ First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, based on a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that states “the discretion of the states and local school boards in matters of education must be exercised in a manner consistent with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.” In that decision, SCOTUS ruled that government actors “may not, consistent with the spirit of the First Amendment, contract the spectrum of available knowledge.”
The Forest Hills School District’s resolution came less than a month after the same school board canceled a Diversity Day, which was to be held at Turpin High School. The students protested this decision, leaving the class and choosing to organize their own event.
Forest Hills local school district bans anti-racism and critical race theory teachings