The Alpine School District has removed 22 books from its libraries after committees reviewed them and found them “pornographic or offensive”.
Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature enact a law to forbid “sensitive materials” at public schools.
In August, the Alpine School District drew 52 books from the library shelves to look through for parental complaints. PEN America, an organization that advocates for freedom of expression, called the removal a “worrying escalation of censorship” and reported later The district had decided to temporarily restrict the books rather than remove them entirely. In September, the Alpine School District approved a new policy to run book challenges and reviews.
District Superintendent Shane Farnsworth told state lawmakers during a Nov. 16 meeting of the Interim Committee on Education that as of that date, 49 of the 52 books had been reviewed and 22 had been permanently removed.
KUER received a list of which books were permanently removed after going through the district’s new review process:
The list also shows that 17 books are now restricted, meaning they require parental consent or are limited by age, and ten have been returned to shelves.
Author Paisley Recdal leads PEN America’s Utah Chapter and said she was not surprised by the specific books that were removed.
“The types of books they’ve pulled tend to fit the national profile of other books that have been banned, meaning they’re mostly written by LGBTQ authors or deal with issues like sexuality, gender, LGBTQ issues, as well Race and race deal with identity,” she said.
Some of the books the Alpine School District removed are among the most challenged books of 2021. according to the American Library Association. In August, said PEN America Of the 52 books the district pulled out for review, 42% contained LGBTQ characters and/or themes.
However, Rekdal was surprised at how many of the reviewed books were eventually banned.
Utah law defines sensitive material as anything that is “pornographic or lewd” and is not educational material used in medical classes, family and consumer education classes, or other classes exempted by the state school board.
Rekdal believes none of the books the district has removed can be considered “pornography,” and neither can materials in any school library
“That’s not to say that you don’t pick up a book with sexual content,” she said. “Literature has sexual content as part of a story that tells you something greater about human nature and about the human condition and experience. It’s not just there to tickle.”
Instead, Rekdal believes books are meant to encourage nuanced discussion.
“A democracy depends on an educated and educated population, a population that is curious and able to think for itself and read a lot,” she said. “And whenever we start limiting access to literature, ideas, and information, we limit our children’s ability to think complexly, to think for themselves.”
Alpine school district policies state that a “teaching materials review board” must consist of at least one school administrator and two teachers appointed by the school principal. There must also be more parents on the committee than school employees. However, Rekdal said that review committees should consist primarily of professional educators who have received training in First Amendment rights.
“I think right now because they [the committees] mainly composed of lay people who are very passionate and have not received this education, people will make decisions based on emotions and their ideas about their children and what to read,” said Rekdal.
For some advocates of removing certain books from schools, just pulling 22 books is not enough. Steve Sparti, a parent in the district who has worked with members of the Conservatives Utah parents united To encourage the removal of books, he said he wanted any book that had a “graphic depiction of sex” removed from schools.
“That should have been a five-minute conversation to say, ‘Yeah, you know what? This is inappropriate and we are taking steps to ensure we get rid of all this inappropriate stuff today,'” he said.
Age restrictions were another part of the verification process that Sparti said should be reconsidered. He claimed these books should be removed immediately.
“It doesn’t matter if there’s a cure for cancer out there, it’s unsuitable for children,” he said. “If you want your kids to read this stuff, you can go to the local library and borrow these books.”
Sparti said he believes the district could be run by “groomers” because they didn’t take immediate action to remove books he described as pornographic. It is an indictment that has been filed nationwide librarians, educator and authors in the fight for book bans.
During the Nov. 16 committee meeting, Mark Clement, president of the Alpine School District Board of Education, vouched for the educators, saying they do not attempt to give pornography to children.
“Police came to a library because someone reported that people there were distributing pornography to children, which frightened our librarians and made them less effective,” Clement told lawmakers