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U.S. Book Challenges Update: March 24 Edition

banned books map 3.24.23

Libraries and schools across the country are experiencing unprecedented levels of attempts to ban or remove books from their shelves. I Love Libraries will continue to raise awareness by highlighting attempts to censor library materials, as well as efforts by librarians, parents, students, and concerned citizens to push back against them. This reports includes news from New York, Florida, and Connecticut, as well as a shocking update on book bans numbers.

Bomb threats to New York state school centered around LGBTQ+ book in school library

An anonymous bomb threat targeting the Hilton (N.Y.) Central School District (HCSD), centered around Juno Dawson’s bestseller This Book is Gay and its availability in school libraries, forced law enforcement to evacuate schools and cancel classes on March 22, reports WHAM 13. Another threat was reported on March 24.

The threats accused school leaders of "grooming" children and remains under investigation. No explosives were ever found, and no arrests have been made at press time.

HCSD School Superintendent Casey Kosiorek called the March 22 threat a hate crime and said the book in question has only ever been checked out twice. However, it is currently under a review because parents have brought forth concerns.

Florida school board votes to keep 4 challenged books

After more than 7 hours of debate, Escambia County (Fla.) Public Schools board has voted to keep four challenged library books in circulation, reports Pensacola News Journal. However, the books will only be accessible to certain grade levels the board has deemed age appropriate. The books in question were The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Drama by Raina Telgemeier, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, and New Kid by Jerry Craft. All four books were challenged by a district teacher, who cited reasons such as “indoctrination of LGBTQ,” “sexual introductions,” “race-baiting,” and “anti-whiteness.” The school board meeting marked the third round of evaluations to remove books from the district’s reconsideration list—a list that has climbed to 176 challenged titles.

Connecticut mother wants “vulgar” LGBTQ+ books removed from high school library

A Westport, Connecticut, mother of three has formally challenged three LGBTQ+ books she wants removed from the local Staples High School library, saying that she considers them “vulgar” and “without educational value,” reports Westport Journal.  

More than 40 people attended Superintendent’s Review Committee hearing in Westport Town Hall on March 22 where the mother aired her complaints about the books This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson, Flamer by Mike Curato, and Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe.

“We’re raising our kids with certain values consistent with our religion,” the mother said. “That’s my job, to protect them. I expect the schools to do the same.”

Two Staples High librarians read comments from the positive reviews of the books by educational publishers and reviewers at the meeting. The meeting was part of a nine-step complaint review process adopted by school officials to clarify the district’s policies on controversial books and other materials.

Florida teachers, librarians, and parents challenge censorship agenda

The Florida Education Association (FEA), the Florida Freedom to Read Project, and Families for Strong Public Schools filed a petition on March 16 challenging two policies put forth by Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration that shutter classroom libraries and undermine public education, writes the FEA. Backed by the right-wing movement in Florida, DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. “have ushered in a new era of censorship—unlawfully attacking the freedom to read and public education and harming parents, students, educators and librarians,” says the FEA.

“Parents want their children to have access to a wide variety of books in school libraries and in the classroom, and they have been forced to make a difficult choice between the schools they love and access to books,” said Damaris Allen, executive director of Families for Strong Public Schools. “Public school parents should not be forced to leave their local public school in order to have access to classroom libraries.”

Book ban attempts at record level in 2022

The American Library Association (ALA) has released new data documenting 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, the highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 challenges reported in 2021. A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship, a 38% increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021. Of those titles, the vast majority were written by or about members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color.

Take action

Alarmed by the escalating attempts to censor books? Here are five steps you can take now to protect the freedom to read.

1. Follow news and social media in your community and state to keep apprised of organizations working to censor library or school materials.
2. Show up for library workers at school or library board meetings and speak as a library advocate and community stakeholder who supports a parent’s right to restrict reading materials for their own child but not for all
3. Help provide a safety net for library professionals as they defend intellectual freedom in their communities by giving to the LeRoy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund.
4. Educate friends, neighbors, and family members about censorship and how it harms communities. Share information from Banned Books Week.
5. Join the Unite Against Book Bans movement to learn what you can do to defend the freedom to read in your community.

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