Saturday marks the end of National Banned Books Week, as conversations about books in schools roil districts both nationally and locally.
Speakers have descended on numerous board meetings across the region, including at the Greeley-Evans School District, the Wellington Board of Trustees and the Thompson School District.
Task Force Freedom, an advocacy organization that, according to its founder, Cain Young, who simply goes by Cain, “fights against the teaching of critical race theory, social-emotional learning and the sexual grooming of children,” has presented during the public comment portion of the last two Thompson School District board meetings.
Other presenters at those meetings read graphic scenes from books like Toni Morrison’s ‘The Bluest Eye’ to illustrate that they are inappropriate to keep in schools.
“You might say, as libs say to me all the time, ‘You just want to burn books,’” Cain said to the board of education during their Sept. 7 meetings. “No I don’t. I want to protect children. So we demand you secure these books in an area which requires parental approval before a child can check it out.”
He later went as far as to suggest that the board, as well as school librarians, should be incarcerated.
For its part, the district said that it has a process that can be pursued by parents who have concerns about certain books.
“Here in Thompson School District, we are proud of the collaborative relationships that we have formed with our families and community as we work together to provide a world-class education and prepare our children for their lives beyond school,” said district spokesperson Michael Hausmann in a statement. “Parents and guardians who have questions or concerns are always welcome to reach out to their school for assistance. We believe that families are a consistent guiding force in the educational process and we greatly appreciate their partnership and support.”
Nancy Rumfelt, one of the seven Thompson board members, said that while she would consider stricter limitations on the availability of books in school libraries, including a parental permission process, anyone with concerns about reading materials available in libraries should follow the process that’s in place , which involves reaching out to the school and filing an official complaint.
“The loudest voice isn’t always listened to or respected,” she said. “I get everyone’s frustrated, because it feels like they’re trying to move this two ton ball up the hill, but we still have to figure out how to express ourselves in a way where people will listen.”
She said her criteria for whether a book should face further restrictions would be that it is age appropriate and contributes to learning.
Stu Boyd, another member of the school board who once served as an English teacher within the district and on book review committees, said that he had plenty of experience considering whether certain books were appropriate.
The process, once a parent or guardian made a complaint, was to have the entire committee read the book carefully, with consideration given to the specific complaint made.
Boyd’s criteria is more expansive, and he said that if graphic scenes are used purely for shock value, the book likely does not have much use appearing in school libraries or classrooms, but if the scene serves to illustrate the author’s point, and is readable and understandable to the grade level in question, it would likely be allowed.
He did note that on one occasion while serving on the committee, a book that appeared in both middle and high school libraries was removed from the middle school library but not the high school library, as it was considered age appropriate for older students but not younger ones.
“If I felt that the conversation that was part of the novel, or the description was important to advance the author’s purpose in writing the book, then I think it’s appropriate,” Boyd said.
He added that while serving on the committee, he would usually ask the parent who filed the complaint to read the book as well, sometimes changing their minds when the scene was presented within its full context.
“As a former teacher, citizen and board member, I certainly believe people have the right to object, it’s a public school,” Boyd said. “Hopefully they will understand that there is a process to follow to bring about change, and just coming to a board meeting and talking about it and being angry about it is likely not to affect change. But being involved in a process including filing a formal complaint means the objection will be treated seriously and be considered by a variety of stakeholders.”