Law & Courts

‘We Must Protect This Right': Students Sue School District Over Banned Books

By Kaitlyn Alanis, The Charlotte Observer — February 18, 2022 | Updated: March 01, 2022 2 min read
Books packed up in a cardboard box.
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Updated: Since the publication of this story, the Wentzville School Board rescinded its earlier decision to ban Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”

Two students have partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri after they say eight books were pulled from the shelves of their school district libraries.

The eight banned books about race, gender and marginalized communities were pulled by the Wentzville district’s school board, according to a news release from the ACLU of Missouri.

“School boards cannot ban books because the books and their characters illustrate viewpoints different of those of school board; especially when they target books presenting the viewpoints of racial and sexual minorities, as they have done in Wentzville,” said Anthony Rothert, director of integrated advocacy with the nonprofit, in a statement.

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“The First Amendment protects the right to share ideas, including the right of people to receive information and knowledge,” he continued. “We must protect this right, including educators’ and students’ rights to talk and learn about race and gender in schools.”

The ACLU of Missouri filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on Tuesday, Feb. 15, on behalf of two students by and through their parents. The students, a girl and boy, were identified by their initials: C.K.-W. and D.L.

A spokesperson with the Wentzville School District said the district is aware a lawsuit has been filed and it will not be providing a statement.

Lawyers with the ACLU of Missouri say the removed books are part of a “targeted campaign” by St. Charles County Parents Association and No Left Turn in Education’s Missouri Chapter “to remove particular ideas and viewpoints about race and sexuality from school libraries.”

The banned and “critically acclaimed” books include “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “Heavy: An American Memoir” by Kiese Laymon, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero, “Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari and “Invisible Girl” by Lisa Jewell.

The books were all pulled from the district collections throughout the 2021-22 school year, with the latest being banned on Jan. 20, according to the lawsuit.

“The Banned Books engage their readers with a diversity of ideas and minority viewpoints, including with respect to race, gender, and sexual identity,” the attorneys say. “The District banned the books from school libraries because of the ideological disagreement members of the District’s school board and certain vocal community members have with the ideas and viewpoints that the books express.”

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At least 10% of students enrolled in Wentzville School District are not white, the lawsuit says, though the school board is 100% white.

With the filed class action complaint, the plaintiffs seek the return of all copies of each of the banned books that were “removed in violation of the First Amendment,” a permanent injunction that remedies the “specific violations,” plaintiff attorney fees and other “further relief.”

A wave of school book bans has rippled across the U.S., The New York Times reported, as sex and race discussions in schools are challenged.

“The politicalization of the topic is what’s different than what I’ve seen in the past,” Britten Follett, chief executive of content at Follett School Solutions, which provides books to schools, told the Times. “It’s being driven by legislation, it’s being driven by politicians aligning with one side or the other. And in the end, the librarian, teacher or educator is getting caught in the middle.”

Wentzville is about 40 miles northwest of St. Louis.

Copyright (c) 2022, The Charlotte Observer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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