Four families are suing an Ohio school board to challenge a ban on race-based education and staff training in the latest court battle over attempts to suppress anti-racism education in American classrooms.
The Forest Hills School District Board of Education, east of Cincinnati, passed a resolution in June prohibiting teaching of critical race theory, anti-racism, identity and intersectionality to promote what it calls a “culture of kindness.”
The complaint, filed in Ohio District Court Wednesday, alleges that the resolution exposes racial prejudice within the school system and censors the perspectives of marginalized communities. Six minors and seven adults are listed as plaintiffs, which include current students and their parents – one of whom is a teacher in the school district.
“It most certainly is not about a ‘culture of kindness,’ but rather promotes hatred, racism and discrimination on the basis of race, identity and gender, and silences voices in opposition to racism and discrimination, further endangering and diminishing already disenfranchised and vulnerable voices within the school district,” the complaint reads.
Judge Michael Barrett of the District Court scheduled a hearing next week to consider a motion for a temporary restraining order filed Friday. Attorneys Kelly and Nicole Lundrigan, who are representing the plaintiffs, filed the order to block the enforcement of the school board’s ban on racial, socio-economic, and gender-identity education. The attorneys declined to comment on the case, referring back to their motion for the restraining order.
“The Resolution cannot withstand the strict scrutiny it requires, and it must be struck down and its enforcement immediately enjoined to prevent further irreparable harm,” the restraining order motion reads. “As is immediately apparent on its face, the Resolution is a race-based, unprecedented and unconstitutional censorship of discussions and training about ‘anti-racism’ among a host of other prohibited topics, which violates the Fourteenth Amendment.”
The debate over the merits of diversity and equity education in classrooms, and critical race theory, across the country has become increasingly politically divisive in the past year, and the bans have gained steam in states led by Republican lawmakers. A Florida law banning critical race theory teaching took effect Friday, and state lawmakers greenlighted a similar bill in Idaho, which also included universities.
The school district Board of Education’s resolution on the ban states schools in the district may not require people to “admit privilege or oppression” nor influence a student to consider an aspect of their identity, like race or gender identity, “as a deficiency or a label” that could serve as a stereotype.
The plaintiffs argue that an enforced resolution would strip students and teachers of their First Amendment rights to free speech and information, especially disadvantaging students of color and those who identify as LGBTQ+. The complaint also states the ban would violate their Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, marked by the “vagueness” of the guidelines.
Josh Bazan, a spokesperson for the school district, said the Board of Education and school district have received the complaint and are reviewing it with legal counsel. He declined to comment further.