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Forsyth County students, parents respond to U.S. Department of Education assessment regarding book removals

The Dept. of Education said the district "may have created a hostile environment" during the process of removing several books from school libraries.

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The U.S Department of Education recently concluded its investigation into the removal of certain books from the libraries in Forsyth County Schools last year. The findings suggest the process may have contributed to the creation of a "hostile environment" within the school district.

Following the receipt of a civil rights complaint, federal authorities initiated the investigation, and the results have now been released. In an exclusive interview, 11Alive's Karys Belger spoke with affected students and parents to gauge their reactions and expectations for the district moving forward.

High school senior James Liming expressed his belief that the district did not intend to cause harm. However, as the books he cherished were singled out and removed, it significantly impacted his experience as a student. 

"I'm pretty sure I was in school while I was hearing about it. And so that was just kind of the worst space to be able to hear that, because it's hard," he said. "You have to be focusing on your classes and then also hearing all this news about all the book bannings."

One of the titles, "Not All Boys Are Blue," is a memoir about growing up as a queer, Black man in the deep South. 

Liming highlighted the value of queer literature in helping him navigate different aspects of his life. One of his favorite, authors is Adam Silvera, whose book "They Both Die at the End," is being adapted by Netflix. 

Liming said at one point he heard discussions involving the possible restriction of Silvera's books. He expressed concerns that removing them diminished the safe spaces he sought.

The decisions to remove the books were made following several school board meetings, where parents voiced objections to titles in the school libraries, citing "sexually explicit content." Liming, who attended many of these meetings, shared that they made him uncomfortable, particularly considering his open identification as queer and his involvement as a leader in the school's Gay-Straight Alliance.

Consequently, the district banned eight books and restricted access to four others, confining them to high school libraries exclusively. However, this decision, according to Becky Woomer, a representative of the Forsyth Coalition for Education, caused more harm than good. Woomer emphasized the importance of parents making choices for their own children but not imposing their views on others.

On May 19, the U.S. Department of Education concluded that the district did not violate civil rights laws by banning the books. However, their actions were deemed insufficient in addressing the resultant racially and sexually hostile environment. In response, a district statement emphasized their commitment to implementing the Office of Civil Rights' recommendations to ensure an unparalleled education for all students.

Becky Woomer urged the district to take further action, including better communication regarding their values as a school system and actively listening to the concerns of teachers and students.

As per the recommendations provided by the U.S. Board of Education's Office of Civil Rights, the district now has a list of action steps to follow. These include explaining the book removal process to students and providing them with supportive resources during the process.

The Forsyth County Board of Education is now tasked with addressing the concerns raised by the federal investigation and working toward creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all students. The community eagerly awaits the district's response and hopes for a positive change that will benefit the entire educational community.

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