The United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio recently denied a motion to dismiss in a case brought against the Forest Hills School District Board of Education and its members. A number of Forest Hills parent and educators brought the suit in response to the Board's adoption of a Resolution that forbade using "Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, identity, or antiracism curriculum, for student education or any staff training." The Court's decision means that the case can now move forward to the discovery phase.
The Resolution, titled a "Resolution to Create a Culture of Kindness and Equal Opportunity for All Students and Staff" declared that:
According to the plaintiffs, "[t]he Resolution is a content-based restriction . . . without any legitimate pedagogical purpose," and is intended to push "partisan political agendas, using language that is simultaneously extraordinarily broad and vague."
The Board and its members asked the Court to dismiss the suit because the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring it. Part of their argument was that the plaintiffs would suffer no harm because the Resolution was merely a "vision statement." To quote Bill Murray from Ghostbusters "more of a guideline than a rule." The Court was not buying that argument. In its view, "[i]t defies logic and the basic conventions of the English language to argue that the Resolution was 'only a statement of belief and not a change to existing school policies,' . . . when the Resolution itself uses mandatory language to declare what FHSD 'will not utilize,' and lists a number of actions that schools and teachers 'may not' or shall not' take."
The Court also rejected the Board's argument that the parents and educators lacked standing because "the Courts have not extended the fundamental right for a parent to make decisions regarding the care, custody and control of their children to a decision as to how a public school teaches their child." The Court noted that parents and educators' rights are limited, but it noted that courts have held parents and teachers "still possess standing to challenge what they allege to be an arbitrary and unreasonable exercise of power."
So, the question will ultimately come down to whether the evidence establishes that the board and its members acted arbitrarily and unreasonably here. This is in many respects a battle for academic freedom in a bitterly divided District. Let's hope everyone involved keeps in mind the interests of the students, who may wind up collateral damage.