How challenged books are approved in the Idaho school district

The new school year in Idaho is well underway, but the Nampa School District board is still embroiled in conversation and debates over the fate of 23 books the school board voted to remove “forever” from district libraries in May.

The debate and ultimate removal of the titles appears to have originated from a Change.org petition in January, in which someone claiming to be a parent called for the Nampa School District board to remove 21 titles. Over 100 people signed the petition.

The books removed from district library shelves were labeled as “pornographic” by a parent in a school board meeting in January, according to previous Idaho Statesman reporting. The board voted to remove the challenged titles before committees dedicated to reviewing the books had a chance to complete the process.

The decision to remove the books has now opened further discussion on the criteria to which a book should be held when being considered for inclusion in school libraries and the process for reviewing challenged books in the future.

How are books currently deemed appropriate for students?

The Nampa School District currently operates under Board Policy 2510 for the selection of library materials. The policy states that the school board delegates authority for the selection of books to the superintendent, who in turn delegates that responsibility to the principals of each school. Principals can then delegate that responsibility to the school librarian.

The only category of literature not allowed under the policy is that of “a sectarian nature,” which is any content that details a conflict between two political or cultural groups.

“The ‘sectarian nature’ topic brought a great deal of discussion within our library group last spring,” Nampa High School librarian Nancy Finney told the Idaho Statesman.

She acknowledged the rule can be unclear. Although they try to abide by the rule, Finney said the libraries still have books that touch sectarian issues, such as war or religion, but represent “a fair and unbiased presentation of information” and “as many varieties of opinions as possible.”

The Nampa school board is currently reviewing Board Policy 2510, Finney told the Statesman. The board is expected to hold a workshop to discuss these issues, but board clerk Krissy LaMont said she’s not sure yet when that will be.

District librarians have also collectively created an additional document that outlines the criteria for whether a book should be added to a library:

  • The book supports each school and the district’s instructional goals and standards.

  • The book supports the curriculum as well as extracurricular activities.

  • Materials are appropriate for the intended user’s age, subject area, reading level, emotional development, ability level, and social development.

  • Materials have literary or historical significance or merit.

According to a document on the district’s selection procedures — which is attached to the Nampa School District’s proposed reconsideration procedure document for challenged books that has not yet been approved — “professional reviewing sites” such as School Library Journal and Goodreads will be used to determine whether a book is appropriate for school libraries.

A book doesn’t need to hit all four criteria, Finney said. Sometimes a title will only satisfy one criterion, but if the book provides value to the school library, it will be added.

“Right now, (the school board) is working to change that. But before that, this is what we’ve done, if it just hits one of those,” Finney said. “But the thing is, most of the books that come through here are going to hit more than one, especially if they’ re age appropriate. And that’s a big thing.”

Finney said she also keeps the library fresh by adding books of interest to students or staff; these include books in a series or by popular authors, award-winning and best-selling books, and specific requests by students and staff.

District libraries typically acquire their books through money raised from fundraisers, and fines collected from students and district members who return books that are late or damaged beyond repair. Donations are also accepted if the donated books meet the criteria listed above.

BOI_0616_05_Nampabooks
“Read banned books” is written in paint on the window of a truck in the parking lot of the Nampa School District office during a school board meeting on June 16, 2022. Sarah A. Miller [email protected]

Nampa school board concerned by selection process

During the most recent board meeting, trustees raised questions about the district’s library book selection process.

Trustee Marco Valle said the selection criteria could be more direct to prevent any book “that sexualizes children in any way, shape or form,” contains “graphic sex” or includes obscene or vulgar language from getting chosen.

“Our job is to protect kids and protect children,” he said during the meeting. Because the world changes, that doesn’t mean we have to change. And I believe that we have every right and ability to create policy that mirrors what the community wants.”

But other trustees said it would be difficult to define which books would be acceptable and which would not. That’s why it’s important to have a process for parents or community members to raise concerns about a specific book, they said.

Trustee Brook Taylor noted that children come into school with different backgrounds and experiences.

“The more we discuss this, we get into those weeds with what you would find appropriate, what I would find appropriate, what we would find appropriate together,” she said. “A strong challenge process, I think, gets those things back to the board.”

Finney questioned what exactly could bar a book from being selected.

“Right now, I’m going, ‘What do you mean? If you have one swear word in a book, does that mean it can’t be in here?’” she said.

Students who visit the library want to read books that touch their lives, she said — books they can relate to.

“That’s what today’s literature is,” she said. “It has to follow criteria, but that’s what I put in here; something that they want to read.”

This story was originally published September 23, 2022 6:00 AM.

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Shaun Goodwin is a service journalism reporter in the Pacific Northwest. If you like stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a subscription to our newspaper.
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