Forest Hills parents, students, teachers sue district over resolution that ‘promotes racism’

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 4:46 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CINCINNATI (ENQUIRER) - Several students, teachers and parents in the Forest Hills School District filed a lawsuit against the board Wednesday claiming the “culture of kindness” resolution banning critical race theory to be unconstitutional, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Rather than promoting kindness, the suit reads, the board’s new policy “promotes hatred, racism and discrimination” and “inflicts disproportionate injury upon students of color and those who are LGBTQ+,” the Enquirer reports.

A copy of the lawsuit can be found at the bottom of this story or by clicking here.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati by Kelly and Nicole Lundrigan, lawyers who have four children currently enrolled in Forest Hills schools. They represent parents Sarah and James Updike, Jennifer and Antonio Ciolino, Natalie and Jeffrey Hastings and Janielle Davis.

Six minors are also listed as plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed Wednesday against the school district, board members Sara Jonas, Linda Hausfeld, Bobb Bibb, Katie Stewart and Leslie Rasmussen and incoming superintendent Larry Hook, according to the Enquirer.

“This Resolution makes students of certain colors, races and identities and their families to not feel welcome. If this is not seen as a problem by our Board, that concerns me even more,” Sarah Updike, who is also a teacher and intervention specialist in the district, wrote on her own behalf in the lawsuit.

The Lundrigans threatened a lawsuit on Friday in a letter they wrote to board members. If the board did not rescind its new policy against anti-racism, they wrote, the lawyers would “not sit idly by while you trample the Constitutional rights of students and teachers and destroy this school system.”

Neither district officials nor individual board members responded to The Enquirer Monday about the letter. The Enquirer is awaiting comment from Bibb, Hausfeld, Stewart, Jonas and the district regarding the lawsuit as of Wednesday afternoon.

“I just received the copy of the filing,” Rasmussen wrote to The Enquirer at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. “All I can say is that Katie Stewart and I both voted against the resolution.”

The board also faces a lawsuit alleging Open Meetings Act violations, which was filed in May. That suit charges the board failed to provide proper notice for special meetings over the last two years, which could invalidate decisions made at those meetings, including the decision to stop Diversity Day from happening on school grounds or with school resources.

What’s in the resolution?

The “Resolution to Create a Culture of Kindness and Equal Opportunity for All Students and Staff,” which passed 3-2 during a regular board meeting last week, effectively stops teachers from giving assignments that nudge students to consider their race, socioeconomic class, religion, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or culture as derogatory. Teachers cannot force kids to “admit privilege of oppression” or to reflect, deconstruct or confront their identities, according to the resolution.

Teachings on critical race theory, anti-racism, identity and intersectionality are also limited under the resolution’s terms.

Critical race theory is a college-level legal theory but critics believe it has influenced curriculum and policies around race, diversity and equity in Ohio’s K-12 schools, the Enquirer writes.

Administrators at Forest Hills, including outgoing superintendent Scot Prebles, have repeatedly said the theory is not included in Forest Hills’ curriculum.

But board member Jonas, who added the resolution to the meeting agenda less than 24 hours before the meeting commenced, said the resolution is necessary “to make sure that both sides are always being taught to students.” She said anti-racism is not purely about opposing racism, as the term suggests, but about activism.

Since Jonas, Stewart, Bibb and Hausfeld ran on anti-critical race theory platforms, Jonas said, she believes the resolution is in line with what the community wants.

The new lawsuit, a petition demanding repeal with more than 2,100 signatures and several protests may indicate others may disagree with Jonas. The resolution’s passage prompted one of the district’s superintendent candidates to drop out hours before the final round of interviews began.

“I have decided that my leadership style would not take Forest Hills in the direction it appears to be going,” Edgewood City Schools’ Russ Fussnecker wrote to the district.

Community members gathered at a special board meeting last week while the board conducted its final round of interviews to protest the resolution. A protest is planned at Wednesday evening’s meeting, too.

“We believe in upholding our standard of high-quality education, which includes the ability to foster inclusion for all students. We believe the resolution must be repealed,” the Facebook event for Wednesday’s rally reads. It was created by one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Natalie Hastings. “We believe the right candidate can help our community come together.”

Resolution promotes racism ‘by its very definition’

The board’s resolution violates teachers’ and students’ First Amendment rights and is in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act, according to the lawsuit. It has no pedagogical purpose but instead furthers certain board members’ “partisan political agendas,” the lawsuit states. while using broad and vague language that makes it difficult to comprehend or enforce.

“Educators are left wondering what is and what is not prohibited by the Resolution,” the lawsuit states, and the resolution’s limitations “robs students of information, ideas, and instructional approaches” courts have previously deemed essential to the “preservation of this country’s democracy.”

“By prohibiting education, curriculum, and training regarding ‘anti-racism,’ the Resolution instead promotes racism by its very definition,” the lawsuit reads.

The lawsuit asks for injunctive relief from the court by striking down the resolution, declaring it unconstitutional and barring the board from enforcing it.

See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Please include the title when you click here to report it.

Copyright 2022 Enquirer. All rights reserved.