More St. Louis-area schools are removing library books under a new law that police are unlikely to enforce | Education

St. Louis school librarians have thrown out at least two dozen books this month, even as police say they won’t enforce a new state law criminalizing explicit materials for students.

The law banning “explicit sexual material” – defined as any visual depiction of sexual acts or genitalia, with exceptions for artistic or scientific significance – came into force on Sunday and applies to public and private schools.

In St. Charles County, where school districts including Francis Howell and Wentzville have removed books, the police department plans to “redirect any concerns related to curriculum and library book content to the respective school district.” of the citizen for review,” according to a spokeswoman.

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While the Missouri Library Association has advised against removing or censoring books because “entire library collections” fall under the law’s exemptions, several other school districts have also preemptively eliminated their shelves:

• At Parkway Schools, five graphic novels with illustrations of nudity or sexual acts have been removed from library shelves, and students can no longer access eBooks in the “general adult” category of the app St. Louis County Library, according to a spokeswoman.

• Rockwood posted a list Sunday of 22 books that ‘reflect’ the new law and have been pulled from libraries, from ‘Batman: White Knight’ to ‘Zahra’s Paradise’, which was on the American Association’s 2012 list of the top 10 graphic novels for teens libraries.

• Mehlville also removed five graphic novels that overlapped Rockwood’s list: ‘Be Gay, Do Comics’, ‘Flamer’, ‘Watchmen’, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale (Graphic Novel)’ and ‘Gender Queer’.

“Gender Queer,” a coming-of-age memoir by Maia Kobabe, now banned in several districts, including Rockwood, was kept on the shelves of the district library in December following challenges from five members of the community who considered it pornography.

The Rockwood Book Review Board found that the book did not meet the criteria for pornography because its sole purpose was not arousal. The term “graphic novel” refers to the comic format of the books, not the content.

“Graphic novels are very popular right now. If we do this, does that mean librarians have to go through every graphic novel? And violence as a graphic novel?” reads the committee’s report.

The surge in surveillance and control of children’s reading in school is welcomed by some parents, conservative pundits and lawmakers who argue that students may stumble upon sexual topics too early or access books that undermine beliefs and values ​​of their family. Library advocates say existing book challenge procedures, along with the expertise of accredited school librarians, were already sufficient to ensure school book collections remained appropriate.

The conservative activist group St. Charles County Parents Association is currently compiling a list of “criminal” books, according to its website. Earlier this month, the group posted links to local law enforcement agencies, while adding recently that “filing a police report is a last-ditch effort to be used when all other avenues have been exhausted. failed”.

Violations of the law by school employees who provide these materials to students are considered a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $2,000 fine.

The law has already caused a “chilling effect” on academic freedom, although it will not be enforced, said Joe Kohlburn, head of the Missouri Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee.

“It’s just an intimidation tactic,” he said of the law. “One sympathizes with school administrators who feel they are protecting their staff, but this undermines the purpose of their institution, their libraries and the professional ethic of a librarian.”

Some districts, including St. Louis and Maplewood Richmond Heights Public Schools, said they did not remove any books in response to the law.

“We’re not censoring anything at this point,” Maplewood Richmond Heights Superintendent Bonita Jamison said. “We don’t change what we do for children because we know what they need. They come out in a diverse society.

A spokesman for St. Louis County Attorney Wesley Bell said there were more pressing concerns than library books, but his office would deal with any complaints on their merits.

At least five other states have recently passed laws like Missouri’s restricting access to books in schools, according to EveryLibrary, an Illinois nonprofit.

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, said she had never seen such a strong and successful movement to ban books.

“It shows a failure to respect the rights of every student, especially older students,” she said. “It treats them like 5-year-olds, which isn’t the most helpful or helpful thing we can do and actually teaches lessons in censorship.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Colin L. Johnson