The President of the Iowa Senate said this week that teachers and other school employees who give “obscene” material to students should be prosecuted, adding that he was drafting legislation that would make it. a crime.
At a single room-only meeting Thursday night in Johnston, Senator Jake Chapman used a public meeting on two nationally controversial books to step up his recent rhetoric on the subject, saying: “I don’t know why the school thinks they I am above the law, but I intend to do something.
Chapman, a Republican from Adel, was one of at least 60 people – including students, parents and teachers – who filled the school district boardroom on Thursday as a seven-member committee discussed of a local couple’s complaint about two books used in the district program.
Committee members said parents Mandy and Rodney Gilbert complained at the start of the school year that the best-selling books “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian “from Sherman Alexie were inappropriate and obscene.
In Iowa and across the country, attempts by parents and conservative politicians to ban a variety of books for different reasons have become increasingly common over the past school year. From Kansas and Missouri to Florida, South Carolina and Texas, political debates have erupted over what reading material should be allowed in classrooms and school libraries.
Chapman’s comments, along with his social media posts this week, sparked a backlash from several organizations, including Dallas County Democrats, who criticized him for threatening teachers and called him “too much. radical “.
Veronica Lorson Fowler, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said the group opposes any attempt to censor or prevent young people from gaining access to books that school officials deem adapted to their age.
“These are decisions teachers and librarians should make,” she said. “Often times what one person would consider obscene another person would consider fundamental in matters of sex or sexuality.”
Fowler said many of the books people tried to ban were award-winning novels that have artistic merit and intellectual merit. Just because a few people object to certain content doesn’t mean that they can ban others from viewing it, she said.
A long history of important court decisions has upheld the constitutional right of students to a wide variety of reading materials, she said.
Chapman, who was joined by Republican Senator Brad Zaun at Thursday’s meeting, said he plans to attend another school board meeting on Monday in Urbandale where parents plan to denounce other books in the school libraries.
“I can tell you that the Senate and the House are willing and ready to do something about this, so I’m just asking you to really think about what you are doing giving books with obscene material to children,” said Chapman.
But most of the people who spoke at that meeting supported keeping the books in question on the district program.
Waverly Zhao, a junior at Johnston High School and host of the Community of Racial Equity Club, said the books help students understand the oppression experienced by others.
“The removal of these books and those on similar subjects on the basis of secular language and racism and other issues is extremely hypocritical, because novels considered to be classics like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Great Gatsby “Also include similar profane language and racial slurs,” she said.
After three hours of discussion, Johnston’s committee unanimously decided not to remove the two books from the classrooms.
Committee members said they would suggest to the superintendent that the district find ways to better educate parents earlier about the literature students will read and give parents resources to request alternative titles.
Teachers defend the use of books in the classroom
In Johnston, the books that sparked the parents’ complaint have been used in classrooms since 2017. The complaint discussed Thursday was the only one received about them until recently, teachers said.
Six teachers spoke at the meeting, providing context on how books are discussed in their English lessons. Teachers said the books are reading suggestions, but alternative titles are also available for students or parents who request them.
The committee to reconsider the use of books was formed in October after the complaint was raised at the start of the school year.
The Gilbert’s complaint centered on sexually explicit content in “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and explicit language and what they saw as “anti-police sentiment” in “The Hate U Give”.
“There are many perspectives in this world who can speak to people of color without derogatory, racist and obscene material,” said Mandy Gilbert.
Parents file complaints in at least three other central Iowa districts
Chapman argues – and others dispute – that books given to students in several central Iowa districts violate Chapter 728 of the Iowa Code regarding obscenity.
The lawmaker said he believed authorities should open a criminal investigation in Waukee into complaints filed by parents there. He wants to know how the books “Gender Queer”, “Lawn Boy” and “All Boys Aren’t Blue” became available in school libraries.
These books, which have been withdrawn in other districts across the country, have been withdrawn from school libraries in Waukee, but a review process is underway.
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Urbandale’s parent, Dennis Murphy, also requested a review of two books, “Hey Kiddo” and “Lawn Boy,” in his neighborhood. He said he wanted the books to be removed from library shelves in all districts.
“School districts need to change their policies to make sure they have a much better vetting process before putting content into classrooms and libraries,” he said.
At the Ankeny School District Board meeting on Tuesday, three parents who spoke described two books as pornographic, as well as potentially triggering for survivors of sexual assault.
The two books are “All Boys Are Not Blue”, a collection of essays on growing up queer and black, and “Gender Queer”, a memoir on the author’s journey with gender and identity. sexual.
Parent Emily Peterson read a passage from “Not All Boys Are Blue” to the school board that described two adults engaging in sex. The advice was also featured with passages from “Gender Queer” that portray sexual activity and fantasy on the part of the narrator.
“What I just read to you is grooming equipment. It sexualizes our children. It normalizes pedophilia, and it has to stop,” Peterson said, adding that it made him sick.
Superintendent Erick Pruitt said the district is reviewing both books.
A spokesperson confirmed that the district had also received inquiries about a handful of other books, most exploring LGBTQ themes, which are now part of the national debate, including “Not all boys are blue” and “Gender Queer”. Most were found in the District’s 8th to 12th grade collections.
Under district review policy, if an initial conversation between parent and principal or teacher librarian does not resolve the issue, teacher librarians will review the book and communicate their decision. A parent or guardian can appeal, which triggers a formal process that can reach the superintendent and the school board.
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The books under review at Ankeny at the moment have all been checked by a review committee so that they can review the texts in their entirety, making the books inaccessible to students.
School board member Lori Lovstad, who lost her candidacy for re-election in November, said students were ready to tackle the toxicity and fear surrounding books in recent months.
“Fear is what tries to erase our LGBTQ students by banning books,” Lovstad said. “Fear tries to erase the experience of our students of color by forbidding concepts that divide. Fear screams and threatens public officials to try to prevent them from what they know to be right. Fear tries to recreate the past, but true freedom is not afraid of the future. “
Ian Richardson contributed to this article.
Sarah LeBlanc covers the western suburbs for the Registry. Contact her at 515-284-8161 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @sarahkayleblanc