After parents and students filed a lawsuit against the district on June 29, Forest Hills School District's board of education has agreed not to enforce a "Culture of Kindness" resolution that would ban "anti-racist teaching" while the suit moves through federal court.
The lawsuit named the district, board of education members and Forest Hill's newly-hired superintendent as defendants and claimed the resolution was unconstitutional.
"The Forest Hills Local School District board of education agreed today with plaintiff's counsel to stipulate that the board and the administration would refrain from proceeding to adopt, codify, address or implement any 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. "The board agreed to pause any of these actions and to allow the court time to rule on the merits of the case."
The district went on to say that the board of education still intends to "vigorously defend" the validity of the resolution and the school board's legal authority to adopt it. The board of education also plans to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit altogether "and to eventually dispose of the case," reads the statement from the district.
In a press release, plaintiffs referred to the stipulation as a victory in the fight to have the resolution struck down.
"Our family felt relief with this news because we were so stressed with how soon school was starting," said Janielle Davis, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, in the press release.
The "Culture of Kindness" Resolution passed by a 3-2 vote at a June 22 board meeting. It bans assignments where students would have to consider their race, socioeconomic class, religion, gender identity or sexuality. It also states schools cannot force individuals to admit privilege or oppression.
The resolution has sparked protests from both parents and students, led one superintendent candidate to withdraw his application and has fueled heated debate and arguments in several school board meetings this year.
"We are pleased that the board agreed to this stipulation because 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, a plaintiff and teacher in Forest Hills Schools. "We believe this is the first step toward repealing this resolution, which clearly contradicts educational best practices and is harmful to the students, staff and community at large."
During the board meeting in which the resolution is passed, school board member Leslie Rasmussen argued the language of the resolution is vague and could lead to confusion on what is or is not considered appropriate to talk about in schools. Rasmussen is still named as a defendant in the lawsuit, but language in the suit mirrors concerns Rasmussen aired during the June meeting.
"The resolution is a content-based restriction which prohibits curriculum, education and training on, among other things, 'anti-racism,' 'identity,' 'Critical Race Theory,' and 'intersectionality,' not only severely restricting but outright prohibiting discussion on such subjects in the school district's schools without any legitimate pedagogical purpose, but instead to further certain board members' partisan political agendas, using language that is simultaneously extraordinarily broad and vague," the suit reads.
Many of the children who are listed as plaintiffs in the suit are students of color or are LGBTQ+ identifying and cases for discrimination against the children while at a Forest Hills school are detailed in the lawsuit.
The suit also claims the district's resolution violates students and teachers first amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution, based off 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 that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the first amendment." In that ruling, SCOTUS ruled that government actors "may not, consistent with the spirit of the first amendment, contract the spectrum of available knowledge."
Forest Hills School District's resolution came less than one month after the same school board canceled a Diversity Day, set to be held at Turpin High School. Students protested that decision, walking out of class and choosing to hold their own event.