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Student Groups Against Book Bans: Book Censorship News, September 22, 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.

Although book censorship impacts every single one of us — it impacts our democracy on a nationwide level — it is the students who are most impacted by decisions made by school boards, library boards, library and school workers, politicians, local officials, and right-wing bad actors. They are the ones who lose the ability to access materials that educate, enrich, and entertain and more, given that the vast majority of books being banned right now are those by or about people of color and queer people, students know, see, and feel the impact of these decisions on them beyond the covers of those books. Marginalized teens see themselves being labeled inappropriate, disgusting, and more, all of which takes a tremendous toll on their mental health.

This week, let’s look at some of the student-run, student-organized groups fighting back against these book bans. These student groups against book bans are happening in response to situations in their own schools and communities, as well as in places that have yet to see such censorship. The list below was developed through submission, meaning that students, educators, parents, and/or library workers shared the information. It does not include the PARU group from Central York School District (PA), which you can read about here.

Take the opportunity to get to know these teenagers doing important, relevant, and vital work in their schools and communities more broadly. Follow them on social media and offer them the encouragement and support they deserve.

Cobb Community Care Coalition, Cobb County, Georgia

The group organized a rally following the removal of books from the school library. You can see pictures from the board meeting, and honestly, it’s worth really looking at the differences in the types of people you see defending the decision to censor and those, like the Coalition, demanding better. No website or social media were provided.

DAYLO: Diversity Awareness Youth Literacy Organization, Beaufort (3 chapters), Charleston (1 active chapter, more coming), and Columbia, South Carolina (chapters coming soon)

The group began in April 2021 to meet the literacy needs of the community. They were inspired by a conversation with Disney Princess Anika Noni Rose, Black Lives Matter, Kalyn Bayron’s Cinderella Is Dead, and the Pat Conroy Literary Center.

It is a fully youth-led, mentor-advised group.

“DAYLO is a pro-literacy, anti-censorship student-led organization which routinely hosts book club discussions of books with diverse viewpoints and themes. We also host a monthly read-aloud for our younger peers and participate by invitation in Family Literacy Nights in our Title I elementary schools. As youth advocates, DAYLO leaders have spoken at school board meeting for 8 months in response to an ongoing book ban and review of 97 books pulled from our district’s libraries — in addition to writing letters to school board members and letters to the editor.

DAYLO’s student advocacy has been featured twice as a front page news story, once in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Charleston Post & Courier. We are the subject of the feature-length documentary film 97 (in production) and a national news media feature story we’re not yet allowed to talk about — but we would really, really like to. DAYLO students were also invited to develop the youth advocacy toolkit for the Get Ready, Stay Ready national resource. We have been featured alongside our friends from PARU in Education Week, in a live-stream for EveryLibrary, and — upcoming during Banned Books Week — a national livestream with Pat Scales and Raj Haldar for the Children’s Book Council. We have also presented at both of our statewide English teacher conferences — SCCTE and the Palmetto State Literacy Association (PSLA). Next year, specific to our youth advocacy efforts, we will be presenting again at PSLA and also at the SC Association of School Librarians (SCASL). At the recommendation of SCASL, DAYLO was recognized with a national commendation from the American Association of School Librarians. We also spoke at the ALA conference’s opening night Rally for the Right to Read, and we’ve met with Congressman Jamie Raskin on the issues of book bans and education censorship. DAYLO leaders also addressed the SC Senate subcommittee on education in opposition to House Bill 2738, an education censorship bill. We regularly share our experiences with other local and not-so-local interest groups through presentations and conversations, inspiring others into pro-literacy, anti-censorship actions as well.”

You can follow DAYLO on Instagram.

Intellectual Freedom Teen Council (IFTC), Hosted by Brooklyn Public Library but open to teens 13-19 anywhere in the U.S.

For teens eager to get involved in anti-censorship work, the IFTC is the perfect opportunity to not only learn how to do so but also to network with other young people doing similar work. The group launched in spring 2022 with Brooklyn Public Library’s Libraries Unbanned Initiative.

“The IFTC aims to put teens back at the center of intellectual freedom advocacy. Participants connect with a nationwide peer-support network as well as learn effective advocacy strategies for pushing back against censorship and protecting the right to read. In addition, IFTC participants provide feedback on programming related to BPL’s Books Unbanned initiative and hear from authors, librarians, fellow teens, and others with experience combating censorship.”

“The IFTC is a group for teens by teens. Participants learn how to be effective intellectual freedom advocates in their own communities. Additionally, participants are eligible to earn a certificate, a recommendation letter, and resume-boosting experience. But most importantly, participants have the opportunity to connect with peers across the country, discuss books, and find community.”

An IFTC member shared that, “I believe that to have a fair and inclusive society, we need to have free thought and a large part of that comes from the freedom to read…. To me, intellectual freedom means having the freedom and ability to think clearly for yourself, make critical decisions, and also have your voice heard. I am so excited to join the Intellectual Freedom Teen Council because it is the perfect place for me to continue developing my advocacy and surround myself with impactful youth who are making change in their communities. I cannot wait to join the IFTC to ensure intellectual freedom for youth across the world!”

You can find out more and get involved at the IFTC website. More information about Books Unbanned is available here, and the Brooklyn Public Library’s teen Instagram is here.

Students Engaged in Advancing Texas (SEAT), Texas — began in Katy, now statewide

Katy, Texas, Independent School District students launched SEAT in November 2022 following the continuous waves of censorship throughout their school. Their goal was to end book bans and ensure their voices were being heard at school board meetings. As their name itself says, students deserve a SEAT at these tables.

“We developed amendments with state senators to the House Bill 900 book ban bill, and we introduced state legislation to protect students from internet censorship. We organized a statewide advocacy day at the Texas Capitol with students from DFW and Houston to advocate against book ban bills. State legislators wore our lapel pins (the SEAT logo, a morph of a chair and a book) on the chamber floors to protest HB 900. We distributed nearly 100 banned books at the August Katy ISD school board meeting along with 200 of our “know your rights” lanyards — 400+ showed up to protest LGBTQ+ censorship. We protested the Houston ISD library closures with an open letter with the NCAC and a read-in with HCVPE. Our executive director, Cameron Samuels (they/them) was invited to the White House to meet President Biden when he announced the appointment of a federal anti-book ban coordinator. They were invited to testify to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee during the recent hearing on book bans.”

“Book bans affect students, yet they are imposed by adults. We deserve to be the decision-makers, and we overwhelmingly say no to book bans.”

Follow SEAT on their website and on their Instagram.

Students Protecting Education, New York and South Carolina

In spring 2022, students at Orchard Park School District in Western New York were tired of hearing about book bans and decided to launch a group to fight back.

Students involved in the group passed along their information to be shared here, but so, too, did an unaffiliated adult who said the following: “[A]s an adult, I am inspired by these students who chose to stand up against board candidates who didn’t have their best interests. It is very powerful to see students getting involved with school board elections because ultimately the results impact the students above all in the district!”

Find out more about Students Protecting Education at their website, as well as on Instagram.

Yorkville High School, Yorkville, Illinois

The to-be-named group of students in suburban Chicago will begin their initiatives on Monday, September 25, addressing the school board. Yorkville’s school board has seen a major change in leadership, and several current members of the board were not only funded by conservative PACs but are pushing their anti-Critical Race Theory campaigns into the district. The book Just Mercy, once used in classrooms, was banned at the previous school board meeting.

“While parents were the initially the ones that were angered by the boards removal of the book the students are the ones that have done the work to make sure their concerns are addressed. We are incredibly proud of them and they have fellow students, families and even school staff attending to help support them.”

“These kids are intelligent, well-spoken and passionate. We would love for them to not only get the recognition they deserve but also have the support to bring about real change!”

Book Censorship News: September 22, 2023

Last week, I highlighted several bomb threats at Chicago-area libraries. I had the opportunity to talk about those on WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR.