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Idaho school board votes to remove 23 books from libraries ‘forever’

UPDATED: Thu., May 12, 2022

This Aug. 21, 2019 photo shows author Margaret Atwood posing for a portrait in Toronto, Canada. The longtime Toronto resident has written the year’s most anticipated novel, “The Testaments,” the sequel to her classic “The Handmaid’s Tale” and a Booker Prize finalist. In December, Atwood will be honored in New York by the Center for Fiction, which has given its first ever On Screen Award to her and to Hulu executives for the Emmy-winning adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”   (Arthur Mola)
This Aug. 21, 2019 photo shows author Margaret Atwood posing for a portrait in Toronto, Canada. The longtime Toronto resident has written the year’s most anticipated novel, “The Testaments,” the sequel to her classic “The Handmaid’s Tale” and a Booker Prize finalist. In December, Atwood will be honored in New York by the Center for Fiction, which has given its first ever On Screen Award to her and to Hulu executives for the Emmy-winning adaptation of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”  (Arthur Mola)
By Becca Savranksy Idaho Statesman

About two dozen books from Nampa School District libraries will be removed permanently from their collections.

The Nampa school board on Monday voted to remove 23 books trustees claimed had too much sexual content. The decision was made before the district could complete a review of the books, but the bans included at least six books the district said in February had little or no sexual content and should be removed from a “challenged books” list.

The list of books was created after a parent spoke at a board meeting in January about concerns over what she said were “pornographic” books available in the district’s school libraries. During the meeting, she read a segment from a book called “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison.

Shortly after that meeting, a Change.org petition was created with a list of 21 books the petition said were pornographic and needed to be removed from the district. The books, according to the petition, contained details about murder, abortion, rape, incest, molestation and suicide. More than 100 people signed the petition.

All of the books on that list were on the list of 23 challenged books given to staff in the Nampa School District.

“We’ve never had a library book challenged before, because library books are optional. You can check them out, or not check them out,” spokesperson Kathleen Tuck told the Idaho Statesman. “So this is all unchartered territory.”

List included ‘Handmaid’s Tale,’ ‘Kite Runner’

In a Feb. 25 document, the district said it had gathered information and made recommendations for moving forward with each of the 23 challenged titles.

The document included a rating for sexual content for each book from Commonsense, which provides reviews and ratings for books. The rating was included because “pornography” was cited as the reason the books were challenged.

“While librarians have not personally read each of them, we have used a variety of references to talk about each book,” the document said.

Some of those titles also included positive comments from district staff members who had read the books on the educational value of them.

The district said it didn’t own one of the titles that was challenged, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, so no action could be taken on it. Another title, “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas, was classified incorrectly and the librarian had physically removed the book from the school.

Of the remaining books, district officials recommended that six be removed from the list for lack of or little sexual content. That section included “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini, “Leah on the Offbeat” by Becky Albertalli and “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher.

The district recommended seven others be looked at by a committee for review because of their high rating for sexual content. Administrators said many of the titles in that section had educational value and recommended a full review.

On that list was “Looking for Alaska” by John Green, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

The remaining books on the list were mostly rated three out of five for sexual content

“They have been given that rating for different reasons. Some have won awards, and have high overall ratings,” the document said.

In that section were books including “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, “City of Heavenly Fire” by Cassandra Clare, “Sold” by Patricia McCormick and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris.

“The 57 Bus” by Dashka Slater was listed twice in two different sections, including the section of six books the district said should be removed from the challenged list.

The list of titles included several on the American Library Association’s top 100 list of the “most banned and challenged books” from 2010-2019.

Board votes to remove books from schools

Tuck said the process was underway to review the books on the challenged list. Committees that included librarians, staff members and parents had been created to make recommendations about the books, she said. But the committees weren’t able to finish their work.

Instead, the board moved forward without a recommendation from the administration.

During the meeting, Trustee Marco Valle made an initial motion to remove all the currently challenged books until a more comprehensive policy on challenged books could be developed.

The Nampa School District’s policy allows anyone to challenge the selection of materials in the library using the uniform grievance procedure. The policy also said the district would not allow books, papers or catechisms of a “sectarian nature” in the library.

Ultimately, Valle made another motion to remove all 23 challenged books from all school libraries in the district – “forever.”

Some trustees raised concerns about the use of the word “forever.” Trustee Mandy Simpson said she hesitates to use that word since a process hadn’t been completed to analyze the books. She said she didn’t have a problem with the books being removed from the shelves, while the review of those titles continued.

But other board members said students could be harmed or traumatized if the books are left on the shelves. The board voted 3-2 to remove the books.

On Tuesday, Laurie Maughan, director of curriculum and instruction with the district, sent an email to district librarians and principals letting them know the board had voted to forgo the book review process and to permanently remove the books from libraries and classrooms, according to an email provided to the Statesman. Educators received an email asking them to make sure none of the books were in their classroom libraries.

Idaho Legislature discussed ‘harmful’ materials

The decision to remove the books comes after similar discussions in the Idaho Legislature earlier this year.

At the end of the session, Idaho House Republicans approved a resolution that created a working group to study children’s access to “harmful” materials in libraries.

The resolution said the House recognizes that distributing “harmful” materials to minors is a contributing factor to juvenile crime and to “impairing the ethical and moral development of our youth.” It also calls the proliferation of pornographic materials a “public health crisis” that “inflicts harm on children, families and societies.”

Senate Republicans also announced the creation of a separate working group to study library content in partnership with House leadership.

Earlier in the session, the House approved a bill that would have held libraries liable for distributing “harmful” materials to minors. The penalties for disseminating harmful materials, which would have been a misdemeanor, include up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The bill didn’t get a hearing in the Senate.

While that bill was being debated, lawmakers passed around a “secret folder” of books they believed were harmful to children. They included some similar titles as those being removed in Nampa, including “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “It’s Perfectly Normal.”

Book challenges have been happening across the country. The American Library Association said in an April press release library staff had faced an “unprecedented number of attempts to ban books.” The organization said the books that were most targeted were those about Black or LGBTQIA people.

Rediscovered Books, a downtown Boise book store, in a tweet condemned the ban and said it’s “planning actions” to stand against it.

“We refuse to take events like this lightly or quietly,” it said. “Displays are being put together in our stores presently, and we are planning actions to empower our community to stand against book banning.”

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