Book banning: Schools around state face issues

Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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Across the Commonwealth, schools are pulling books off library shelves, citing inappropriate content for students. The response has been different in our region, as districts have, to date, not had an issue or removed any books.

In Lunenburg, school officials simply said, “We have not removed any books,” while in Charlotte County Schools, Superintendent Robbie Mason also said no books had been removed; however, parents should contact their child’s principal if they encounter any materials in the library books that they consider explicit.

“The books will then be evaluated case-by-case and removed if explicit,” Mason said. “We added a link to our website on Jan. 3 that lists any instructional materials meeting the State’s definition of “explicit” that are being used in our classrooms.”

The removal and banning of books have been an issue throughout American History but was brought to light last April after Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin signed into law a requirement for schools to warn parents in advance if the explicit reading material is to be used in the classroom.

Virginia Schools were to adopt a policy by the first of the New Year.

According to school documents, Charlotte County Public School has adopted a Procedure for Notifying Parents of Sexually Explicit Instructional Content, calling it Charlotte County School Board Policies IIA and IIAB require the development of procedures for ensuring that parents are aware of sexually explicit instructional materials/activities that will be utilized in their child’s classrooms.

Portions of the policy note that a parent or guardian who wishes to review any instructional materials implemented in his or her child’s classroom must schedule an appointment with the teacher to view materials.

As well as, a parent or guardian may request a non-explicit instructional substitute for materials/ activities by contacting his or her child’s teacher in writing in advance of the materials/activities being utilized.

Parents will also be made aware of any potential inapposite books. The policy, which is posted on the CCPS website, states that parents and guardians will be notified of sexually explicit content that teachers within a school plan to utilize during the school year via a grade-level letter that will be sent home with students at the beginning of the school year (elementary and middle schools) or through course syllabi (high school). A parent or guardian signature will be required on the form to acknowledge receipt.

Lunenburg County Public Schools did not explain if its school division had a policy in place.

A Madison County School Board removed 21 books from school libraries just weeks ago, citing adult content, including works by Stephen King and Margaret Atwood.

In a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article, the news public sent requests for public records to all 132 state public school systems to investigate books removed or evaluated in the past two school years.

Of the 132, 23 school districts reported that one or more books had been withdrawn due to their content, while 90 said no books had been subject to review.

PEN America, a literary and free expression advocacy organization, has long been concerned with book bans in public schools.

According to its website PEN America, in the past nine months, the scope of censorship has grown significantly. To track this trend, PEN America has created the Index of School Book Bans, which records decisions to ban books in school libraries and classrooms in the U.S. from July 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022.

In total, for the nine-month period represented, the Index lists 1,586 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,145 unique book titles.

“It is not just the number of books removed that is disturbing, but the processes–or lack thereof–through which such removals are being carried out,” said PEN officials. “Objections and challenges to books available in the schools are nothing new, and parents and citizens are within their rights to voice concerns about the appropriateness and suitability of particular books. In order to protect the First Amendment rights of students in public schools, though, procedural safeguards have been designed to help ensure that districts follow transparent, unbiased, established procedures, particularly when it comes to the review of library holdings.”