Backlash in Forest Hills: 'We will not sit idly by while you... destroy this school.'

·5 min read
The Forest Hills School District school board begins a meeting, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Nagel Middle School in Anderson Township, Ohio.
The Forest Hills School District school board begins a meeting, Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Nagel Middle School in Anderson Township, Ohio.

A pair of lawyers sent a letter Friday to Forest Hills school board members warning that its recently passed resolution banning anti-racism and critical race theory from curricula, training and hiring practices is unconstitutional. The lawyers, who have children in the district, threatened legal action if the resolution is not rescinded.

The full letter can be found at the bottom of this story or by clicking here.

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The resolution, which passed in a 3-2 vote last week, was met with public outcry and prompted one of the board's final three candidates for superintendent to withdraw his name from the search hours before second-round interviews began. Edgewood City Schools' superintendent Russ Fussnecker, who applied to lead Forest Hills after Scot Prebles announced his move to a job in the Cleveland area, said his "leadership style would not take Forest Hills in the direction it appears to be going."

The district also is facing a petition drive to repeal the resolution. The Enquirer reached out to Forest Hills district officials and individual board members with no response as of Monday afternoon.

New board member Sara Jonas wrote the resolution and added it last-minute to the board's regular business meeting agenda last week. Under the new policy, teachers can no longer give assignments that nudge students to consider their race, socioeconomic class, religion, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or culture as derogatory. They cannot force kids to "admit privilege of oppression" or to reflect, deconstruct or confront their identities.

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.

Lawyer Nicole Lundrigan told The Enquirer Monday that she felt "outrage" when she saw the resolution had passed. She hoped "that perhaps they had made a mistake" and that the board would correct it, she said.

She and her husband Kelly Lundrigan said they don't represent anyone in a case against Forest Hills yet. Their letter is on their own behalf as parents, lawyers and taxpayers in the district. Kelly Lundrigan told The Enquirer they have not received a response regarding the letter, and that the next step is to file a lawsuit.

"We're not waiting," he said Monday afternoon. The couple currently has four kids enrolled in the district, and one that graduated from Turpin High School.

Woodrow Keown Jr. and Barbara C. Perez, presidents of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati, respectively, sent out a joint statement on Thursday regarding the board's new policy. The local leaders said the resolution "is a threat to equity and detrimental to the development of students and our educational system."

A petition on Change.org to repeal what its author labeled as the "culture of kindness" resolution had more than 1,500 signatures as of Monday afternoon. It was started by district parent Natalie Hastings Saturday evening.

"Our school district faces a mental health crisis, and we will not stand for resolutions or policies that are detrimental to students’ learning and feeling of belonging in the classroom," the petition reads. It demands the immediate repeal of the resolution.

'We are not going to go backwards two hundred years.'

The new policy is morally wrong and legally deficient, The Lundrigans wrote in their letter. It violates numerous legal rights and will subject the school district to lawsuits, they write.

"The last thing that we want to do is sue our own school district and Board," the Lundrigans' letter reads. "However, we will not sit idly by while you trample the Constitutional rights of students and teachers and destroy this school system."

Nicole and Kelly Lundrigan listed several reasons why the resolution puts the school district and board in legal jeopardy, mostly because of its violation of the First Amendment.

The resolution is "vague and overbroad," they wrote, and does not uphold students' right to receive information and ideas, a First Amendment corollary established by the United States Supreme Court in 1982. It was enacted "not for legitimate pedagogical reasons, but for illicit political and partisan reasons" based on four of the board members' anti-critical race theory campaign platforms, in violation of the First Amendment rights of students. The resolution also violates the First Amendment rights of teachers to academic freedom.

The Lundrigans wrote the resolution is "race-conscious and race-based on its face, subjecting it to strict scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment, which it will not pass." They wrote the resolution also poses a barrier to adhering to the Civil Rights Act or enforcing anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.

The resolution "promotes racism by prohibiting curriculum which teaches that racism is illegal, as well as morally wrong, and has no legitimate place in any public school classroom in the United States. We are not going to go backwards two hundred years," the Lundrigans' letter reads.

If found unconstitutional, the new policy could then lead to the misapplication of public funds by the board. By legislating "your personal views into illegal curriculum," the Lundrigans wrote, depletes "seriously needed funds for education and programming" and distracts "from the real business of continuing to ensure the excellence of Forest Hills schools."

Lundrigan Correspondence to Forest Hills School Board by CincinnatiEnquirer on Scribd

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Forest Hills anti-CRT resolution brings backlash, suit threat