Does the Nampa School District book ban violate freedom of speech? – Referee : Post idaho

The Nampa School District Board of Trustees voted in May to permanently ban 22 books from the district’s libraries for “pornography or sexually explicit content,” although most of these books also contain LGBTQ+ and other minority characters.

The decision came after parents complained to the school district about the availability of certain books in school libraries, after which the school district quickly removed the books from all shelves.

However, not all parents and students agreed, as Nampa’s action led to a nationwide debate about what powers schools should have to censor their classrooms and libraries, and how censorship affects schools’ ability to properly educate students.

Controversies over the banning of books

The controversy that followed this book ban was not about the book ban itself, but rather that the Nampa School District did not follow the proper channels or justify why these books had to be removed from schools.

“There was a procedure for reviewing these books if necessary, and the board is changing procedures to limit students’ access to eligible information,” said Shiva Rajbhandari, a Boise High School senior who in September became the first student to win the Boise Trustee’s Headquarters Award. School District School Board.

The original list of banned books included 25 titles. Educators in the district recommended removing at least six of these books from the list because they contained “no explicit content.” However, the board banned all books except those that were no longer available in their schools.

“I think one thing that’s missing from this conversation is that libraries have processes to deal with challenges,” said Michelle Armstrong, associate dean of Albertsons Library at Boise State University. “The reality is that librarians are navigating these questions all the time… [but] when that process is bypassed, that’s when censorship really happens.”

Since the ban, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Idaho, along with other individuals and organizations, have pressured the Nampa school district to release documents explaining how the board made the decision to remove the books.

The Idaho ACLU sent an official request for public record to the school district in July 2022. Prior to the release of said documents, the school board held a closed session on July 25 to determine which records are exempt from disclosure.

“The documents we reviewed clearly show that the Nampa School Board has banned the sale of many books without any justification,” said Colleen Smith, associate attorney for the ACLU in Idaho, in a press release. “The board’s claim that students should be denied access to these books because they are ‘pornographic’ is unsubstantiated.”

Having a clear justification for banning any book in a public school is essential to ensuring freedom of speech is upheld. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Board of Education Island Trees Union School District v. Pico (1982) that “local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they do not like the ideas they contain, even if they are they are offensive, unpleasant or inconvenient”.

Censoring different stories

Some may view the ideas presented in the many books banned by Nampa as “offensive” or “inconvenient” because they regularly deal with stories about racism, sexual assault, and queer identities. But that’s exactly why students need access to them.

“People deserve representation,” said Rebecca Leber-Gottberg, event coordinator at Rediscovered Books in Boise. “If you feel uncomfortable about a book that is about a teenage girl being sexually assaulted, think of a girl who was sexually abused and doesn’t have the language or network to express those feelings and bring that experience to the world.”

Access to books from school libraries is often the only way children come into contact with different environments and stories. Reading allows students to explore narratives and ideas that may not be explored in the classroom.

[Illustration of books banned by the Nampa School District in Idaho.]
Illustration by Alieha Dryden

Rediscovered Books, a local bookstore with locations in downtown Boise and Caldwell, held a book giveaway in June in response to the Nampa book ban. The store offered all students and teachers in the Nampa school district up to three free books from the district’s list of banned books.

The giveaway relied on donations from the community, and in less than a week the store had amassed more than 1,200 banned books to distribute to those whose access had been revoked by their schools.

“What amazed me was that I remember reading many of these books as a student,” said Jacey Anderson, a Rediscovered Books employee who graduated from Nampa High School before earning a B.A. in English Literature from Boise State University. “When I was young, Drama (by Raina Telgemeier), which is one of the banned books, was one of my first introductions to LGBTQ+ relationships, and without books like this, I don’t think I would have felt comfortable exploring these options.

Until 2015, school districts mainly banned books if they were deemed “inappropriate for the age group,” but this has since changed to include books “containing LGBTQ+ content.” Statistics from the American Library Association show that 5 of the 10 most banned books in 2021 were banned in schools because of LGBTQ+ content.

Even before the Nampa book ban, Rediscovered Books participated in the Read Freely Project in partnership with Cabin, a non-profit literary arts organization in Boise. The Read Freely project aims to provide books with a variety of stories directly to the community and, according to Leber-Gottberg, a total of more than 1,750 books have been distributed since the project’s inception.

“Our country’s culture is starting to diversify and reveal things that have always been there but haven’t been mainstream or recognized by certain factions in the country, and that scares people in power,” said Benjamin Kemper, shipping manager at Rediscovered Books. “The best way to pretend they don’t exist is to shut out stories about them.”

Academic repercussions

Book bans not only prevent children from being integrated, but also seriously hamper their overall educational experience. Some of the books banned in Nampa are part of the curriculum in the AP Literature and Composition course, such as Margret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which Rajbhandari explained he must read in this course this school year.

AP courses are college-level classes offered by the College Board in schools across the country. These classes allow students to get college credit before graduating from high school without having to pay for them.

Banning books that are course reading for AP classes puts students at a disadvantage compared to many of their peers. According to College Board data, students who take AP classes are more likely to attend college and succeed in college than those who don’t. Even students who failed AP tests were found to be better off than those who had never taken any AP courses.

“Free access to information is an integral part of maintaining a democratic society,” Rajbhandari said. “And I think that by limiting student access to resources, these board members and the school district are failing in their duty to educate students.”

Three of the five members of the Nampa School District Board of Trustees were elected last fall and are still in their first year in office. The campaigns of all three new voters were largely funded by conservative donors and were run on platforms criticizing the inclusion of critical race theory in schools.

Rajbhandari said he did not believe the Boise School Board would follow suit with any book ban similar to that of Nampa’s school board. That said, the Boise school district could be affected if the Idaho legislature decides to introduce censorship laws at the state level.

Censorship beyond book bans

In March, the Idaho House of Representatives passed Bill No. 666. The bill has since been deferred to the State Affairs Committee, but if this or a similar bill passed, it would remove the current exemptions for libraries, schools, and universities that protect them from being prosecuted for distributing material, that may be “harmful” to minors.

“The livelihoods of teachers and librarians are at risk just because these books are on the shelves,” Leber-Gottberg said. “It’s only recently that we’re starting to see people pressuring school boards and the legislature to deny people access to books through public libraries. [and] public schools.”

In early October, the Nampa School Board took censorship a step further by discussing a potential policy that would prohibit teachers from displaying certain content in their classrooms. This policy is almost identical to the one implemented this year by the West Ada School District, which restricts what teachers can display in their classrooms to materials that are neutral and consistent with the curriculum.

Under such a policy, pride flags can only be flown during pride month in June, and Black Lives Matter flags would probably only be appropriate if learning about the movement during a social studies class.

“It really has nothing to do with anything [being] wrong in our schools It’s all about power and money,” Rajbhandari said. “The far right is trying to undermine our schools… They don’t care about the cost to society. They just want money.”

Censorship has skyrocketed across the country over the past few years, with nearly 700 attempts to ban books in 2022, according to the American Library Association. As recently as 2015, there were less than 300 attempts to ban books throughout the year.

The American Library Association also reported in 2021 that 75% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans oppose banning books, with only a small, vocal minority leading the charge of banning them.

“[Book banning] is personally depressing, [but] on the other hand, it casts such a bright light on libraries. This is an opportunity for us to really explain how we operate and what we do and why it is so fundamental to our society,” said Armstrong. “In a way, this is our moment to rise to the occasion.”

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