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More Politicians Need To Address Book Bans: Book Censorship News, February 24, 2023

Kelly Jensen


Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Last week, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker delivered his State of the State address. It is the first time a governor in the country has directly spoken about the wave of censorship, book banning, and harassment being seen by schools and libraries. While some legislators in other arenas have addressed the topic — Jamie Raskin, a Congressional Representative from Maryland, for example — it continues to be a topic that not enough of those who have the power are using to discuss. Meanwhile, over a dozen bills have been proposed across the country that would remove queer books from libraries and schools and/or actively prosecute professionals who have that material in their collections.

While Pritzker sets up the state to be a book sanctuary and model for supporting public education, it should be terrifying to consider how each state may differ in terms of what and how students have access to truth, factual history, and voices of those who are marginalized. We already know that abortion being left to the states is creating dangers and life-threatening consequences for pregnant people, and we know that state standards and funding for education are already deeply disparate, depending on where you live.

Why should a student from Illinois who sits next to a student from Florida in their college lecture halls have had radically different access to voices, stories, and information professionals?

They shouldn’t.

Here’s the excerpt of Pritzker’s 2023 State of the State speech about the current rise of dangerous nationalism and the impact it has on schools and libraries. May this be the model for other states. Read it, share it, and use it to write to your legislators about why they need to speak up against this virulent nationalism and anti-intellectualism that denies students their First Amendment Rights.

Our history is a series of stops and starts, of ups and downs, of our ancestors getting it tragically wrong and courageously right. The only thing we can hope for in this work is that the values we attach our names that will make our grandchildren proud.

After all, this is the Land of Lincoln. We have a responsibility to that legacy.

As Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

With that in mind, I want to take sides on something I feel obligated to speak out about, especially given the history of antisemitism and discrimination suffered by my ancestors and that persists for so many others today.

There is a virulent strain of nationalism plaguing our nation, led by demagogues who are pushing censorship, with a particular attack right now on school board members and library trustees. It’s an ideological battle by the right wing, hiding behind a claim that they would protect our children — but whose real intention is to marginalize people and ideas they don’t like. This has been done in the past, and it doesn’t stop with just snuffing out ideas.

This afternoon I’ve laid out a budget agenda that does everything possible to invest in the education of our children. Yet it’s all meaningless if we become a nation that bans books from school libraries about racism suffered by Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron, and tells kids they can’t talk about being gay, and signals to Black and Brown people and Asian Americans and Jews and Muslims that our authentic stories can’t be told.

I’m the father of two children. I care a great deal about their education. Like every good parent, I want to be involved in what they learn. I’m also a proud American. Our nation has a great history, and much to be proud of.  I want my children to learn that history. But I don’t want them to be lied to. I want them to learn our true history, warts and all. Illinois’ young people shouldn’t be kept from learning about the realities of our world. I want them to become critical thinkers, exposed to ideas that they disagree with, proud of what our nation has overcome, and thoughtful about what comes next.

Here in Illinois, we don’t hide from the truth, we embrace it. That’s what makes us strong.

Book Censorship News: February 24, 2023

  • Fascism is a teacher being fired for showing empty bookshelves because the governor said that the video was fake (Florida).
  • The No Left Turn bigots want 13 books pulled from Savannah Public Schools (Georgia). Most of the folks behind this don’t have any students in the district, of course. They want their new lives in this community to be the cishet white Christian nation of their dreams.
  • The full article is, of course, behind a paywall so this one is just a snippet, but one teacher had to remove 150 books from her classroom library in Escambia County, Florida.
  • Speaking of Escambia County, the board banned three books this week: And Tango Makes Three, All Boys Aren’t Blue, and When Aiden Became a Brother.
  • “On Tuesday, the Kuna School District [Idaho] sent out an email to the principals of its secondary schools addressing a list of books that Idaho state legislators had flagged as needing to be removed from library shelves. By Wednesday, KSD officials started placing the listed books under restricted access and removing them from classroom libraries.” They got the list from the Idaho Association of School Administrators.
  • This story is paywalled for me, but the information is this: 19 Minutes, a story about a school shooting, has been banned in Beaufort County Schools (South Carolina). It’s the second banned title in their review of nearly 100.
  • They’re also fighting the social studies curriculum in Beaufort County Schools (South Carolina) — yes, same school as above, making you wonder if maybe these officials have not figured out they’re in a losing battle no matter what and their authority has been superseded by right-wing Christian nationalists. “Residents say the course studies will promote socialism, division, and revisionist history, leaving parents like David Hudson very worried.”
  • This Book Is Gay continues to be under fire in Abingdon, Massachusetts, schools. Story might be paywalled because information is behind those and the lies are free.
  • Here are the 19 books being reviewed for potential removal in Volusia County, Florida.
  • “Clay County [Florida] Education Association said that 258 books have been challenged by someone in the community. Several of these challenged books talk about African America history.”
  • The Black Flamingo will remain on shelves in Flagler County, Florida, schools.
  • “For Harrington, her objections to ‘The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School’ soon extended to other books in the Sora app. She began researching book titles on websites such as Rated Books and Rated Reads – which review books based on their level of profanity and sexual content – and finding those titles in the Sora app. She said she was frustrated by the response she received from both school district administrators and school board members, who stood by the use of the app.” This is why so many of us keep screaming about these book review sites. They’re used as legitimate, as tools to build book ban legislation around. This is a story out of New Hampshire.
  • The legal strategy to outlaw abortions in Texas is the strategy they plan to outlaw books in the state.
  • I suspect the list that this county commissioner wants the city librarian to look through because they contain “inappropriate” content — queer books and books about race — mirrors the Kraus list. Story is from Midland County Public Libraries in Texas.
  • Brandywine school district (Michigan) will not be banning books but they are banning any purchase of “explicit” and “inappropriate” content for the foreseeable future. What those words mean is not being shared.
  • This is a solid editorial from the staff of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle about the absurdity of an opt-in policy for students to access books in Laramie County schools. “A super-specific opt-in program is not a ‘compromise’ between the First Amendment and book banning, as Trustee Klaassen suggests. It is an impossible task. (And, likely, a waste of the district’s time and efforts; out of the nearly 6,000 parents who have registered their children so far, only 18 have utilized the current opt-out form, according to previous Wyoming Tribune Eagle reporting.)”
  • Ten books are currently restricted in a Powell County, Wyoming, school district as they are being reviewed. The district wants to implement a book ratings system that — here’s sarcasm — sounds SHOCKINGLY like the one Moms for Liberty/No Left Turn/Laverna in the Library use. In other words: a garbage, made-up system that rates whatever the non-professional decides is not okay.
  • In Lafayette Parish Public Libraries (Louisiana), some classics may no longer be accessible to those under 18.
  • “Some parents in Cumberland County [North Carolina] are in an uproar as the school district is reviewing almost 100 books for objectionable or age-inappropriate content. Cumberland County Schools (CCS) said it is following up on complaints issued to the district. However, critics said it’s a veiled attempt to ban books by and about people of marginalized identities. It’s not clear who asked for the list of books to be reviewed by CCS for inappropriate content.” So 100 books are being pulled for review but the schools won’t share where the complaints came from? What happened to “parental rights”?
  • “One example, she said, of how the curriculum has embedded social and emotional learning is in a sixth-grade book where children read two poems: One about the struggle of an immigrant and the other about the historic struggle of Black people. The students are then asked to analyze their reading experience by what they see, hear, and feel. ‘They are being asked to write about their emotions rather than the elements of literature and how to annotate poetry,’ she argued.” You can’t make it up, and what’s scary is that these people are winning. They are getting on school and library boards with absolutely no knowledge and are ruining these institutions (Orrville, Ohio).
  • Crawford County, Arkansas, is pushing out the public librarian who will not ban books they deem worth banning. Say it again: f a s c i s m.
  • In Lapeer District Library (Michigan) had to cancel their meeting this week in order to make room for a bigger crowd anticipated when they discuss whether or not to ban Gender Queer.
  • Books removed from the shelves in Alachua County Public Schools (Florida) are now a target of the local public libraries.
  • Here’s what happened to three books that were challenged in Wood County, West Virginia and the dodgy way legislators don’t bother naming the books they want to legislate.
  • In the ongoing saga at Keene Memorial Library in Fremont, Nebraska, there was a protest and, more importantly, a counter-protest over the decision to not remove sex ed books from the collection.
  • It should surprise absolutely no one that in a school that banned LGBTQ+ books, they found LGBTQ+ hate messages. This is what these “parental rights” “activists” are modeling and teaching their children. (Bohemia, New York)
  • “The Liberty Lake City Council [Washington] discussed a plan Tuesday night that would give them the power to decide what books get checked out and what doesn’t make the shelves at local libraries.” Cool.
  • A must-read on Duval County, Florida, and how it is a case study in ongoing legislation to ban books.
  • In Livingston Parish Public Libraries (Louisiana), the board is FORCING parents to choose a level of access for those under the age of 18. FORCING.
  • Because of a paywall, this will be a challenging one to read. There are complaints in Pitt County schools (North Carolina) over $600,000 in book purchases to be approved in the district. Board members think there might be “inappropriate” books in there, per parents who like to make stuff up. Just…sit with that. Parents get to determine whether or not schools have books.
  • These people are not even creative in the books they target nor in their desires to get their 15 minutes of fame in right-wing circles. “Flack shared the list of books he sent to Superintendent Gordon, which included titles like ‘Out of Darkness,’ which has themes that include inflammatory racial commentary, violence, and sexual assault and battery of a minor. ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,’ another book from which Flack read portions aloud in a school board meeting in May 2022, contained sexual content and profanity. Flack posted the video on his Facebook page and it has been reposted to millions of people.’I found pornography in the schools and sent a list (to Uwe Gordon) and said, “These need to be removed,”’ Flack said. ‘I said, “Hey, if you don’t remove these books, I’m going to come read you one. You didn’t remove the books, I read you one.”'” (Stillwater, Minnesota).
  • Members of the Conway School Board (Arkansas) are meeting with the folks behind the decisions in Texas to remove rainbow stickers from classrooms. THIS is how they’re using taxpayer resources. Bigotry.
  • The public library in Pocatello, Idaho, is hearing complaints about drag story times and the book This Book Is Gay. These folks are proud to be members of Mass Resistance, an SPLC-designated hate group.
  • “One justice of the peace said that they saw obscenities within the ‘alternate lifestyle’ books, but that they could not recall the name of the book as it was sent to him by a resident.” Useful in your argument of where and why queer books should/should not be in the public library is just talking without offering any examples (Crawford County, Arkansas).
  • A book rating system for school materials just passed committee in Oklahoma. This should terrify you.
  • The school board president in Washington Township, New Jersey, who did not agree with the board banning The Bluest Eye has resigned.
  • Spotsylvania Schools (VA) have had 55 books challenged over the nine months and 16 have been removed from the schools.
  • “Do parents always agree with a school district’s decisions? No, we’ve spoken at school board meetings on a variety of topics, but the thrust has always been to improve education, not deprive students of knowledge or perspective. And therein lies the difference between most parents and the slick members of Moms for Liberty — that knowing what’s best for one’s child doesn’t mean limiting their education, or that of any other child, but expanding it.” This one gets it.
  • Glad Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry knows that Satan lives in the libraries. Separation of Church and State?
  • Sparta, New Jersey’s, school board will be discussing whether or not to ban The Upside of Unrequited Thursday night. Since this post is put together before the meeting, keep an eye on this one.
  • This could be good news or backfire, but Conroe Independent School District (TX) will not allow board members to sit on the book reconsideration committees because some of those members ARE the ones who’ve challenged the books.
  • Blount County Public Library (TN) heard comments from the community over potential book bans, including the book It’s Perfectly Normal. 14 books were challenged by two people. Five of the books have had determinations made, and all five will remain in the collection, right where they are.