Organizations Respond to Virginia Suit Against Barnes and Noble and More | Censorship Roundup

ALA, the Virginia Association of School Librarians, PEN America, and more speak out against a lawsuit attempting to require parental consent for minors to purchase Gender Queer and A Court of Mist and Fury at Barnes and Noble in Virginia and more in our latest roundup of book censorships attempts around the country.

Organizations respond to Virginia lawmakers' suit against Barnes and Noble

Virginia legislators have taken the fight to censor book access from the library to the private business world.

Two Republican lawmakers have asked a court for restraining orders that would prevent Barnes & Noble from selling Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maa to minors without parental consent. The request came after a judge issued a ruling finding “probable cause” that the books qualify as obscene, according to The Washington Post.

In response to these actions, the American Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Virginia, American Booksellers for Free Expression, Association of American Publishers, Authors Guild, Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Freedom to Read Foundation, National Council for Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of English, PEN America, Virginia Association of School Librarians, Virginia Council for the Social Studies, and Virginia Library Association issued a statement that read, in part: “Initiated under an obscure state law that allows any Virginia citizen to file a complaint against any book sold in the state, the order obtained by the Virginia delegate asks the authors and publishers of the books to present evidence that the books are not obscene so that the judge can make a final decision regarding whether the books may be legally sold in Virginia.

“This legal action could profoundly limit the availability of books in the Commonwealth of Virginia. No book has been banned for obscenity in the United States in more than 50 years. Prohibiting the sale of books is a form of censorship that cannot be tolerated under the First Amendment.”

The requested restraining orders would also prohibit the distribution of the two books by Virginia Beach City Public Schools. The district’s school board already voted to remove Gender Queer from its libraries, according to the Danville Register & Bee.

Melissa removed from South Carolina district elementary schools

The Greenville County (SC) Schools Board of Trustees voted 10-2 to remove Melissa by Alex Gino (formerly published as George) from its elementary schools, according to WSPA. It will remain in middle and high schools but will require parental permission for check out from the middle schools. The board’s Materials Review Committee previously voted to keep the book available in the district.

The Board of Trustees also voted 111 to send a letter to South Carolina lawmakers requesting that the legislature work to unify school districts and educational leaders across the country to demand publishers develop and utilize a rating system for books, proactively identifying and addressing age-appropriate content, according to the report.

“As an important first step in addressing the issue, we specifically ask that your office pursue efforts to convene book distributors and education leaders around the country, as well as the U.S. Department of Education, to explore a voluntary book rating system that would allow content to be objectively rated for age appropriateness,” the letter stated.

Pasco County (FL) explores proactive measures

While Pasco County (FL) School District has not received any complaints about library books, the board is considering proactive measures, including a way to electronically tag books that would require parental permission for students to access, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Superintendent Kurt Browning told the newspaper that he did not want to be “in the book banning business” but did support parents making decisions for their own children.

“For every parent you have that wants a book banned, you have another who says they don’t,” he said. “I struggle with having a group of parents ... where they’re going to dictate what my child or your child has access to.”

According to the report, district leadership is considering a system that has parents register electronically and say if their child requires permission to access certain library books or may check out what they want. Parents would receive a notification when children provide their student number for checking out the materials.

Florida district keeps seven books on shelves

The St. Johns County (FL) school board voted 3-2 to retain seven titles in its school libraries according to News4Jax. Titles under consideration included My Rainbow by DeShanna Neal, Peanut Goes for the Gold by Jonathan Van Ness, Ho’onani Hula Warrior by Heather Gale, White Privilege by M.T. Blakemore, Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford, and All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson. The board said it may consider alternative ways to limit school library book access.

Forty-nine more books that the district received complaints about will be reviewed by the board at a later date.

Superintendent Tim Forson told attendees at the school board meeting that the District Media Advisory Committee recommended the district keep these titles available. He also stated that the district has an Individualized School Library Access Plan in place for parents to limit the books their children can access. Parents responded that this plan does not prevent students from reading the books in the school library without checking them out.

22 books removed from Idaho district

The Nampa County (ID) School Board voted 3-2 to remove 22 titles “forever” from school libraries and English class reading lists following complaints from parents who said the books contained pornography and sexual content, according to the Idaho Press. Committees were in the process of reviewing the titles but had not completed the review. Instead, staff is being told to remove the books, including multiple titles on the AP English recommended reading list.

The titles include frequently challenged works such as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and Looking for Alaska by John Green, as well as additional titles including The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater, Sold by Patricia McCormick, and Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare.

Kansas district proposes panel to review all reading materials

Newton (KS) USD 373 superintendent Fred Van Renken has proposed the creation of a panel of book reviewers to evaluate reading materials for “language, sexual content, violence, drugs/alcohol, mature themes and religious/political theme” before making books available to students, according to the Wichita Eagle. The move comes after 34 novels were approved for purchase by teachers for use in reading circles or as choice reading.

Among the titles prompting the district to consider this panel are I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Educated by Tara Westover, The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, and Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. According to the report, a board member told The Newton Kansan that he was concerned that some of the books show kids disrespecting parents and having sex with someone the first time they met them.

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