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March 30, 2023

Schiff Urges Department of Education to Investigate if Book Banning, Education Restrictions Constitute Civil Rights Violations

Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and eleven Members of Congress urged Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon to investigate if recent actions to ban books, block access to teachings on American history, and silence LGBTQ+ individuals in schools constitutes a legal violation by Republican state governments of students' first amendment rights and civil rights protections.

"In the wake of the recent uptick in book banning, curriculum censorship, whitewashing of history, and denial of any discussion of race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation in classrooms, these policies violate students’ first amendment rights, civil rights protections, and the ability to access and obtain a quality education," the members wrote.

They continued, "We urge the Department to analyze whether these state, local, and federal policies are discriminatory and violative of the law."

Since the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the federal government has had a legal precedent to enforce equal access to education and has had the power to intervene in cases of legally sanctioned discrimination. Recent conservative movements to ban books, block access to American history, and silence the experiences of people of color and LGBTQ communities call into question our bedrock civil rights.

The rejection of the Advanced Placement African American History course by the Florida Department of Education is one of the more recent high-profile examples of Republican politicians abusing their power of office to ban topics from classrooms based on their right-wing activism and desire to fuel so-called culture wars for their political benefit.

As of mid-September 2022, at least 17 states introduced bills that restrict how teachers can discuss American history and current events.

"American families, educators, and administrators across the country have historically fought— and continue to fight each day— to ensure that their students receive the quality education that all American schoolchildren deserve. We believe that a quality education is one that is factual, rigorous, inclusive, and culturally responsive," the members wrote.

The letter is co-signed by Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) André Carson (D-Ind.) Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.).

Read the full letter below and here.