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To ban or not to ban? School leaders consider classic George Orwell novel ‘1984’

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 26, 2017, 11:32 a.m.

This undated image shows George Orwell, author of "1984." Orwells classic dystopian tale of a society in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of newspeak, first published in 1949, was in the top 5 on Amazon.com as of midday, Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017. (AP)
This undated image shows George Orwell, author of "1984." Orwells classic dystopian tale of a society in which facts are distorted and suppressed in a cloud of newspeak, first published in 1949, was in the top 5 on Amazon.com as of midday, Tuesday, Jan 24, 2017. (AP)

More than 500 people have signed a petition denouncing Rigby High School administrators in southeast Idaho after it was reported administrators there are considering banning the classic George Orwell novel “1984.”

Last week, East Idaho News in Idaho Falls reported Jefferson School District administrators in Rigby were considering what action to take after at least one parent complained about violent, sexually-charged language in “1984.” The book is reportedly being taught in two senior government classes at Rigby High School in the Jefferson School District.

JSD Superintendent Lisa Sherick also reportedly questioned whether one passage of the book aligns with community goals, ideals and institutions.

The passage reads: “He would flog her to death with a rubber truncheon. He would tie her naked to a stake and shoot her full of arrows like Saint Sebastian. He would ravish her and cut her throat at the moment of climax.”

Sherick said several options were on the table as to how the district would deal with the book, including keeping it and allowing concerned students to read a different book or completely restricting it.

The petition against a ban, created Friday by an anonymous user, has continued gaining traction through Banned Books Week, which started Sunday. Founded by American librarian and First Amendment advocate Judith Krug, the annual campaign draws attention to banned and challenged books and celebrates the freedom to read.

Pullman School District Librarian Julie Udy said she has seen very few challenges to books in her six years with PSD.

During those six years, one 2009 children’s book, “In Our Mothers’ House,” was challenged by the parent of a third-grader at Jefferson Elementary School, Udy said. The book, which tells the story of two mothers raising three adopted children together, was subsequently reviewed by the Curriculum Advisory Committee, which recommended teachers distribute lists of books they will use in their curriculum at the beginning of each school year.

At Neill Public Library in Pullman, one book seems to get a formal complaint almost every year, Director Joanna Bailey told the Daily News. Called “And Tango Makes Three,” the 2005 children’s picture book tells the story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who build a nest together and are gifted an egg from a zookeeper to care for. It is based on a true story of two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo.

The book topped the Office for Intellectual Freedom’s “Top Ten Most Challenged Books” list for four years and remained in other positions years later.

The Neill Public Library Board of Trustees has kept the book on the shelves, Bailey said. The library has also denied a request from a parent to hide certain magazine covers when their child is present, and staff will check out R-rated movies to youths seeking to borrow them.

As for the latest list of most challenged books, all 10 of them are out at Neill Public Library.

“I’m really proud to tell you we have every single one of them,” Bailey said.

For the first time in recent history, the library is not commemorating Banned Books Week, Bailey said. Instead, it is promoting year-round education on the topic, visiting local organizations and clubs to promote awareness.

“We believe that everybody has the right to decide for themselves what books and movies and so on that they want to access, and nobody else has that right to decide for somebody else,” Bailey said.

The Moscow Public Library is commemorating Banned Books Week with a display shelf of notoriously challenged books, wrapped in white to hide their covers. Reasons they have been challenged are written on the front. One cover reads “Promotes white supremacy.” Underneath the wrapping is the classic 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Latah County Library District receives more informal complaints about the books it carries than formal ones, Library District Director Chris Sokol said. Typically, those complaints are hashed out between the patron and a librarian at the circulation desk.

Sokol said the latest book to be formally challenged was the 2008 vampire fiction novel “Let the Right One In.” The complaint went to the library’s board of trustees, which decided to keep the book on the shelves.

In her 19 years with the district, Sokol said she has seen very few formal complaints, though she added the complaints tend to spark conversation on both sides of the debate.

“Not everybody’s interested in the same things,” Sokol said. “That’s what makes our country so diverse.”