Utah’s Alpine School District removes 52 books ‘for review’
The Alpine School District has removed 52 books from its library shelves after parents complained that the titles — which largely focus on the LGBTQ community — are inappropriate for children.
As early as next week, district board members hope to adopt a policy that will guide them in making decisions about whether to return these books or remove them permanently. And after that, there are 32 more that the district has flagged for further investigation as well.
It’s Utah’s latest front in a national culture war that has centered on literature and affected several school districts in the state, where conservative parents argue the books should be banned because they contain pornography.
“We didn’t burn any books or anything,” Alpine spokesman David Stephenson said. “But we are proactive with those we hear about.”
Stephenson said the district, which is the largest in the state with 84,000 students, temporarily removed the books from its school libraries after an internal audit sparked by concerns from parents. The books have been placed away from students (who are currently away for summer vacation) until Alpine can conduct a “content review”.
The Alpine School Board is drafting a policy for reviewing the books in question, and once that is in place, the books will be formally reviewed.
But several First Amendment advocates are speaking out, saying removing the books before that is a violation, especially when many of the titles relate to historically marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ community and authors of color. They say it looks like an effort to silence those voices.
“Students have a right to learn about the variety of human experiences and perspectives these books offer,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech at PEN America, said in a statement. The organization defends freedom of expression across the country.
Friedman said 21 of the titles on the Alpine list featured LGBTQ characters or themes.
The list includes four oft-challenged books: “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel about the author’s identity journey that contains scenes of illustrated characters engaging in sexual conduct; “Lawn Boy”, which is about a gay protagonist and features a scene about a sexual experience he had at a meeting of a group of young people; “Not All Boys Are Blue”, which includes an autobiographical passage detailing an older cousin assaulting the author when he was a young boy; and “Out of Darkness” about the relationship between a young Mexican American girl and a black teenager in 1930s Texas.
The book list also includes a collection of poetry, “Milk and Honey,” by Rupi Kaur and a non-fiction title, “Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens.”
One of the books on the list may seem misidentified simply because of the title. It’s called “SEX: If you’re afraid of the truth, don’t read this!” The author argues for abstinence, which is taught by law in Utah schools.
The push to ban the books was driven by members of a conservative parents’ group here called Utah Parents United, who cheered the removal on social media last week – sharing the list of books to be removed that was sent to district librarians. and calling it “a great victory”.
The group also led efforts in other districts, including against nine books in the Canyons School District and five in the Washington County School District.
Utah Parents United curriculum director Brooke Stephens also filed a police report with the Farmington Police Department and the Davis County Sheriff’s Office, according to copies provided to the Salt Lake Tribune, for report a list of 47 books in the Davis School District.
She told police from the sheriff’s office that the books violated state law because they contained pornography.
This report notes, “She said she wanted to file a criminal complaint against the school district and investigate the matter.”
The group’s efforts have sparked a tussle over the past year between heads of state, anti-censorship advocates and librarians to determine what crosses borders in children’s books.
In response, Utah lawmakers passed HB374 in the last session which now requires all K-12 public school districts to create a policy to remove books containing “pornographic or indecent material.” libraries and classrooms.
The definition of pornography, under Utah law, broadly includes anything that, taken as a whole, could be considered “harmful to minors” in the depiction of nudity or sexual conduct and anything that an average person finds “appeals to a lustful interest in sex.”
Stephenson with Alpine District said the policy will be based on this new law, as well as guidelines recently established by the Utah State Board of Education and the Utah Attorney General’s Office which are intended to assist districts in developing a policy for reviewing disputed books.
Districts are supposed to have their review system in place by September 1, and it should include a committee that reads each book reviewed and determines the value of the title as a whole, instead of just one potentially inappropriate passage. There’s supposed to be a balance with the First Amendment and kids having the right to check out what materials they want.
The Attorney General also noted in his advice: “While there is no specific law stating that books must be left in the library in the event of a dispute, leaving books on the shelves pending review allows to ensure that schools do not engage in prior restrictions. ”
Alpine, however, chose not to leave them on the shelves. Stephenson said not all libraries have the books on the list; some don’t.
Utah Parents United said it celebrated the decision.
“We can encourage them to ensure that they are permanently removed from all schools in the district in accordance with the law,” another Facebook post added.
A father, who worked with a sub-group called Alpine Parents for Prosperity, also wrote online: “I was very vocal and very judgmental. Thank you for listening and protecting our children. There is still a lot of work to do. »
He believes the decision to remove the books saved the district thousands of dollars in penalties for violating the law banning pornography in schools.
Friedman with PEN America, however, challenges Utah Parents United, saying no child has to check the books if they don’t want to. They are not required to be read, he said, but should be available for those who are interested.
Also, the examples of sex in the books on the list, including “Gender Queer,” aren’t about titillation, said Richard Price, an associate professor of political science at Weber State University who tracks censorship in school districts. . .
It’s about relationship imbalances and manipulations – often real-life experiences by the authors that aim to show the reader how bad things are and warn them if they’re going through something similar.
“It’s about figuring out where your boundaries are and drawing them. It’s very healthy,” Price said.