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Book Bans in Georgia: School District Accused of Racial, Sexual Discrimination

By Cassidy Alexander
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) — A Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group has accused the Cobb County School District of creating a hostile learning environment for students of color and LGBTQ+ students by removing inclusive books from its libraries.

The National Women’s Law Center filed a complaint Monday asking the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to investigate possible racial and sexual discrimination in Georgia’s second-largest school system.

The group interviewed an unspecified number of Cobb County students about how the district’s recent removal of books from its libraries has affected them, and referenced concerns students have shared at public meetings in recent months.

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“Censorship of books sends a message to students of color and LGBTQIA+ students that they do not belong, that they are not safe to be who they are, and that they do not deserve to be reflected in what they read and learn,” said Melody Oliphant, the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition’s executive director, in a news release about the complaint.

“As a result of Cobb County School District targeting books and stories about race, racism, and LGBTQIA+ identity, students feel unwelcome and under attack by their school district.”

The NWLC is requesting the Office for Civil Rights require Cobb to restore all the inclusive books it has removed, create a plan to ensure a welcoming and nondiscriminatory educational environment that the Office must approve and allow students under 18 to speak at public comment without a parent present, among other remedies.

The complaint outlines roughly a year’s worth of controversy over books in Cobb schools. It started over the summer, when Cobb teacher Katie Rinderle was fired for reading a book that challenges gender norms to fifth graders. She is believed to be the first public schoolteacher in the state to lose her job under classroom censorship laws that were passed in Georgia in 2022.

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The complaint alleges that the policies Cobb passed in response to that law collectively restrict students’ access to inclusive learning materials. Rinderle and her attorneys are appealing her firing in court, and have since filed a separate lawsuit that challenges the classroom censorship laws.

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People show up in support of Cobb County teacher Katie Rinderle at a hearing at the Cobb County Board of Education in Marietta, Georgia, on Aug. 10, 2023. Rinderle was fired, and controversial books have remained a focus of the community in Cobb schools. (Arvin Temkar/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

In the months that followed, the district began reviewing its media centers for any books that contain sexually explicit content and has removed at least seven books: “Flamer” by Mike Curato, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews, “Blankets” by Craig Thompson, “It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, “Lucky” by Alice Sebold and “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher.

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale expects more books to be pulled from the district’s libraries as staff members continue to review the catalog, he said in a recent interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before the complaint was filed.

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“We have millions of books in our media center,” he said. “We are not targeting any specific genre of books.”

The complaint references books that were “weeded” from the district’s libraries early in the school year. Librarians regularly remove books that are in poor condition or are not often checked out. The complaint states that an “overwhelming number” of the books are commonly targeted for censorship, including books about sexuality or racism.

The complaint also alleges the district has a history of racial and anti-LGBTQ+ hostility that violates federal laws, and it has not corrected these issues despite having ample notice.

Cobb is the subject of a federal investigation for alleged discrimination based on shared ancestry.

©2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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