ANDERSON TWP., Ohio — A lawsuit has been filed against Forest Hills School District, the district's board of education members and the district's newly-hired superintendent, claiming a recently-approved ban on "anti-racist teaching" is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit has been filed by multiple Forest Hill parents, who are named as plaintiffs along with their children. One of the plaintiffs is a teacher at Nagel Middle School, the lawsuit says.
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.
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.
“There have been multiple suicides in the district in the past few years. We are in the middle of a mental health crisis that this board is actively worsening by promoting hate in the community,” said Claire Mengel, a senior, in May. “I’m just worried about what will happen next and worry about students coming to school and not feeling accepted or safe."
The event had been held for several years and is described as a day to highlight cultural and racial issues. Students must have their parents' permission to attend. The event is for junior and senior students and is optional. It includes activities and guest speakers.