Removing books with racial or LGBTQ+ themes may have created a “hostile environment” for students, and could even be considered a violation of their civil rights, according to an investigation by the Biden Administration.
The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights recently concluded an investigation into the Georgia district's decision to remove nearly a dozen books from its shelves in 2022 after parent complaints. Forsyth County Schools banned eight books permanently, and two temporarily, after debate at a school board meeting.
At the meeting, students spoke out about how the ban would impact them. One student of Asian heritage said she struggled to find Asian protagonists, and a student who identifies as LGBTQ+ said the bans made him feel unsafe and unwelcome, according to the Education Department.
After a committee of teachers, media specialists, and parents pushed for their return, seven of the titles were reinstated. However, the Department of Education found that despite this, the district did not take “steps to address with students the impact of the book removals."
In their letter which concluded the investigation, the Education Department noted that the school board may have created a hostile environment, as they explicitly and exclusively reviewed materials based on “race, color, or national origin."
“Communications at board meetings conveyed the impression that books were being screened to exclude diverse authors and characters, including people who are [LGBTQ] and authors who are not white,” the letter reads.
The ruling did not require Forsyth County Schools to return the remaining banned books to shelves, nor did it require an updated reviewal system to prevent blanket bans on books from marginalized authors. Instead, the district must release a statement that explains the books were not removed due to topics of sexual orientation, gender, or race, as well as “an acknowledgement that the environment surrounding removal of books may have impacted students.”
While the ruling was not as conclusive as activists hoped, they believe the precedent may dissuade other districts from adopting blanket bans. Book bans were attempted or implemented in record numbers in 2022, the majority targeting LGBTQ+ or racial books.
Director of PEN America, Jonathan Friedman, previously told The Advocate Channelthat ongoing legal battles are "about due process and about certain principles that should guide and protect student rights."
"Fundamentally, people should be reading the books, talking about them, understanding the purpose of a library. The library isn’t there to serve any one person’s political or ideological views, it’s meant to be relevant to students, and the best people whose job is to help determine that, are librarians," he said. "Unfortunately, their professional discretion and expertise has been undermined."