'Looking for Alaska' Gets a Reprieve in WI; Scottsdale Principal Loses Job After Assigned Reading Controversy | Censorship Roundup

SLJ rounds up censorship news around the country, with reports of books threatened with removal in Arizona, Iowa, Missouri, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Scottsdale, AZ: The Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board voted December 2 to not renew an employment contract for Horizon High School principal Linda Ihnat after parents from the school raised concerns about an AP English summer reading assignment. Parents notified the school district in November that they opposed the decision by the school last summer to give students the option of reading So You've Been Publicly Shamed for an AP English class. The 2015 book by British journalist Jon Ronson contains interviews with internet personalities who have been publicly shamed online and compares it to how public shaming was popular in Colonial America as a state-sanctioned punishment. Parents complained that some of the quotes and references in the book were inappropriate for high school students, 12 News reported. The book, which was one of the options for the AP English summer reading assignment, contains references to orgies and bestiality.

Des Moines, IA: Two Iowa Republican leaders want to pursue legislation that would make it a felony offense for school officials, including teachers, to provide "obscene materials" to students. Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman (R) posted on Facebook in November that he plans to introduce legislation that penalizes teachers and librarians for providing what he views as "obscene material" in schools, according to an Axios report. The Facebook post followed a Johnston Community School District meeting he attended where a committee reviewed two award-winning books that deal with race: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, the Des Moines Register reported. Chapman, who was joined by Republican state Sen. Brad Zaun, told school district committee members, "I don't know why the school thinks that they're above the law, but I intend to do something about it.”

North Kansas City, MO: Two books about LGBTQ+ experience — George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home— were removed from four high schools in North Kansas City in October. The North Kansas City School District removed the books from its four high schools after Jay Richmond, president of the Northland Parent Association, objected to the books at North Kansas City Schools’ board of education meeting in October, according to the Kansas City Star. The Northland Parent Association, a nonprofit representing parents in Clay and Platte counties, MO, has been on the frontline of the local book ban push. The group, which has also sued over enforcing district mask and quarantine mandates, has encouraged parents to protest the books at local school board meetings, deeming some to be “pornographic.” At a November 22 school board meeting, high school students in the school district condemned the group's efforts. At the same meeting, the North Kansas City School District agreed to return the two books to high school library shelves in the district, the New York Daily News reported.

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Wake County, NC: Parents and community activists filed criminal complaints on November 30 with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, accusing the Wake County Public School System of keeping books they claimed were obscene and pornographic in high school libraries. The books targeted include Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe, All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson, George (now titled Melissa) by Alex Gino, and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison. The parents and activists opposed the sexual language and image in the books. Any decision on whether to file criminal charges against the school system will be up to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, the Charlotte Observer reported. Julie Page, one of the Wake County parents who filed a complaint, told the Charlotte Observer that the books have “no educational value.” Page also filed a grievance with the Wake County school system.

Fairfax County, VA: Fairfax County Public Schools removed two books—Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe and Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison—from its high school libraries after public comments during a Fairfax County School Board meeting in September, WUSA9 reported. Both of the targeted books were then submitted to a book challenge under the county school system's process for challenging school materials. Stacy Langton, a Fairfax City resident, was one of the speakers at the county school board meeting in September, arguing that the books contained pedophilia and pornographic material. On November 23, Fairfax County Public Schools announced it would reinstate the two books that were pulled from high school libraries. The school district determined the challenges were "found to be without merit" and the two books could return to the shelves of its high school libraries. Two committees formed by Fairfax County Public Schools to review Gender Queer and Lawn Boy found that neither book includes pedophilia nor material that qualifies as obscene, under the definition in Virginia law.

Spotsylvania County, VA: At a November 8 meeting, the Spotsylvania County School Board directed staff to begin removing books that contain “sexually explicit” material from library shelves after a parent raised concerns at a board meeting about books available through the Riverbend High School’s digital library app. The parent expressed particular concern about the book, 33 Snowfish by Adam Rapp, which tells the story of three homeless teenagers attempting to escape from pasts that include sexual abuse, prostitution, and drug addiction. The board voted 6-0 to order the removal. Two board members, Courtland representative Rabih Abuismail and Livingston representative Kirk Twigg, said they would like to see the removed books burned, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reported. A week later, the Spotsylvania County School Board voted to reverse its decision to remove "sexually explicit" books from school libraries after hours of public comment. Abuismail and Twigg continued to oppose keeping the books in school libraries, WUSA9 reported.

Harrisonburg, VA: In November, two Harrisonburg City Public Schools parents expressed concern about the graphic novel Gender Queer: A Memoir. One parent expressed concern at a school board meeting and one via email to superintendent Michael Richards. Neither parent followed the proper protocol for objecting to books or course material. Despite the school system’s policy for the review of challenged materials, Richards ordered the book pulled from the shelves of Harrisonburg High School, the Daily News-Record reported. Richard then formed a committee to review not only Gender Queer: A Memoir but to establish criteria for dealing with similar books in the future. Richard expects the committee will make its recommendations on pulling the book by winter break in December, according to the Daily News-Record.

Waupaca County, WI: The book review committee of the Manawa School District has decided to retain Looking for Alaska by John Green in the district’s middle school and high school libraries. Resident Stacey Trinrud told the district's book review committee in November that the book contains detailed sexually explicit encounters and bad language and normalizes dishonesty, hazing, underage drinking, and smoking, the Waupaca County News reported. District library media specialist Jen Krueger spoke at the review committee meeting, saying that “a pluralistic society is a diverse one where the people in it believe all different kinds of things and tolerate each other’s beliefs, even when they do not match their own.” After reading the novel, committee members voted 9-0 to retain the book as an option to students, according to a post on ParentSecurityOnline.

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