Idaho school board votes to remove 23 books from libraries ‘forever’

About two dozen books from Nampa School District Libraries will be permanently removed from their collections.

The Nampa School Board voted Monday to remove 23 books that administrators said had too much sexual content. The decision was made before the district could complete the review of the books, but the bans included at least six books that the district said in February had little to no sexual content and should be removed from a list of “contested books”.

The book list was created after a parent spoke at a January council meeting about her concerns about what she said were “pornographic” books available in district school libraries. During the meeting, she read an excerpt from a book called “The Bluest Eye”, by Toni Morrison.

Shortly after this meeting, a petition was created with a list of 21 books that the petition claimed were pornographic and should be removed from the district. The books, according to the petition, contained details of murder, abortion, rape, incest, assault and suicide. Over 100 people have signed the petition.

All of the books on this list were on the list of 23 disputed books given to Nampa School District staff.

“We’ve never had a library book challenge before because library books are optional. You can verify them or not verify them,” spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck told the Idaho Statesman. “So this is all uncharted territory.”

List included ‘Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Kite Runner’

In a Feb. 25 document, the district said it gathered information and made recommendations for moving forward with each of the 23 disputed titles.

The document included a sexual content rating for each book from Commonsense, which provides reviews and ratings for the books. The note was included because “pornography” was cited as the reason the books were challenged.

“Although the librarians did not personally read each of them, we used a variety of references to talk about each book,” the document states.

Some of these titles also included positive comments from district staff members who had read the books about their educational value.

The district said it did not own one of the disputed titles, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, so no action could be taken. Another title, “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas, was misfiled and the librarian physically removed the book from the school.

Of the remaining books, district officials recommended that six be removed from the list for lacking or little sexual content. This section included “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, “Leah on the Offbeat” by Becky Albertalli and “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher.

The district recommended that seven others be considered by a committee for review due to their high ratings for sexual content. Administrators said many of the titles in this section had educational value and recommended a full review.

On that list were “Looking for Alaska” by John Green, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, and “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood.

The remaining books on the list were mostly rated three out of five for their sexual content.

“They received this rating for different reasons. Some have won awards and have high overall ratings,” the document states.

In this section were books such as “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, “City of Heavenly Fire” by Cassandra Clare, “Sold” by Patricia McCormick and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex and Sexual Health” by Robie H. Harris.

Dashka Slater’s “The 57 Bus” has been listed twice in two different sections, including the six-book section that the district says should be removed from the disputed list.

The list of titles included several on the American Library Association’s Top 100 Books list of “most banned and contested books” from 2010 to 2019.

Council votes to remove books from schools

Tuck said the process is underway to review the books on the disputed list. Committees including librarians, staff and parents have been created to make recommendations on the books, she said. But the committees could not complete their work.

Instead, the council moved forward without a recommendation from the administration.

During the meeting, Administrator Marco Valle introduced an initial motion to remove all currently disputed books until a more comprehensive policy on disputed books can be developed.

Nampa School District policy allows anyone to challenge the selection of materials in the library using the Uniform Complaints Procedure. The policy also said the district would not allow books, journals, or catechisms of a “bigoted nature” in the library.

Ultimately, Valle made another motion to remove the 23 disputed books from all school libraries in the district — “forever.”

Some administrators have raised concerns about the use of the word “forever”. Administrator Mandy Simpson said she was hesitant to use the word because no process had been completed to analyze the books. She said she had no problem with the books being removed from the shelves, as the review of those titles continued.

But other board members said students could be hurt or traumatized if the books are left on the shelves. The council voted 3 to 2 to remove the books.

On Tuesday, Laurie Maughan, director of program and instruction for the district, emailed librarians and district directors to let them know that the board had voted to forgo the book review process and permanently withdraw books from libraries and classrooms, according to an email provided to the statesman. Educators received an email asking them to make sure none of the books were in their classroom library.

Idaho legislature discussed ‘harmful’ materials

The decision to remove the books comes after similar discussions in the Idaho Legislature earlier this year.

At the end of the session, Idaho House Republicans approved a resolution that created a task force to study children’s access to “harmful” materials in libraries.

The resolution says the House recognizes that the distribution of “harmful” material to minors is a contributing factor to juvenile delinquency and “impedes the ethical and moral development of our youth.” It also calls the proliferation of pornographic material a “public health crisis” that “harms children, families and societies”.

Senate Republicans also announced the creation of a separate task force to study library content in partnership with House leaders.

Earlier in the session, the House approved a bill that would have held libraries liable for distributing material “harmful” to minors. Penalties for spreading harmful material, which would have been a misdemeanor, include up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The bill was not heard in the Senate.

While this bill was being debated, lawmakers circulated a “secret file” of books they deemed harmful to children. They included titles similar to those removed in Nampa, including “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “It’s Perfectly Normal”.

Book competitions were held across the country. The American Library Association said in an April press release that library staff had faced “an unprecedented number of attempted book bans.” The organization said the most targeted books were those about black or LGBTQIA people.

Rediscovered Books, a downtown Boise bookstore, in a tweet condemned the ban and said it was “planning action” to oppose it.

“We refuse to take events like this lightly or quietly,” he said. “Displays are currently being set up in our stores, and we are planning actions to empower our community to oppose the book ban.”

Colin L. Johnson