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Goddard school district reverses decision to pull library books

library books.jpeg
Suzanne Perez
Authors and free speech advocates say book challenges are increasing, and more school boards are trying to balance parental outrage with students’ access to diverse books.

Book challenges are up about 60% over the past year. Free speech advocates say many books are being challenged by parents and community members under the guise that they’re promoting critical race theory.

WICHITA, Kansas — The Goddard school district reversed its decision to remove nearly 30 books from circulation in its libraries after receiving national pushback from authors and free speech advocates.

An email sent to families Wednesday said all library books are once again available for students to check out while the district reviews its vetting process for library materials.

The district had removed more than two dozen books from circulation earlier this week after a parent complained.

The list of books initially barred from checkout included classics such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Fences” and “The Bluest Eye,” as well as contemporary bestsellers such as “The Hate U Give.”

The decision was widely criticized on social media, including by several authors.

“When you’re banning books, you’re on the wrong side of history,” tweeted author Brad Meltzer.

The email to Goddard families on Wednesday said a parent “had questions about language and graphics from a specific book” their child had checked out in September. The parent then submitted a list of 28 books, met with the building principal and filled out a “request for review” form with the school, the email said.

“When this list came to our attention, we checked with multiple school librarians regarding the national push to challenge these books,” the email said.

Officials decided to form a committee to examine the vetting process of library materials and the review process for parents.

“At that point, the decision was made to hold these books until the committee could begin meeting and collect feedback from all principals and librarians,” the email said.

The group was set to assemble next week but met Wednesday afternoon instead.

Principals and librarians decided to put the challenged books back into circulation, the email said. Some of the books on the list are not part of the district’s library collection.

Goddard parents have access to a database of books their children check out and can receive notifications when their children check out a book. In addition, library catalogs for all Goddard schools are available on the district’s website.

“Parents are encouraged to always contact their building principal or librarian with concerns,” the email said.

The majority of books on Goddard’s list are written by people of color or feature characters from diverse backgrounds. Many deal with issues of race, gender or sexuality.

Authors and free speech advocates said the case is part of a national trend that has school boards trying to balance parental outrage with students’ access to diverse books.

The American Library Association said book challenges are up about 60% over the same time last year.

In recent months, many books have been challenged by parents and community members under the guise that they’re promoting critical race theory.

Last month, a Texas lawmaker circulated a list of about 850 books and asked schools statewide to tell him whether they have any books on the list and how much money was spent on them.

Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education for PEN America, said the Goddard case was especially troubling because books were pulled out of circulation without a review.

“You have a single parent . . . produce a list of books, and the district says, ‘Sure, no problem. We won’t let anybody read those books because one parent complained,’” Friedman said.

“That's very concerning, considering the importance of individual liberties and the importance of the freedom to read in a democratic society.”

Amanda Hope Perez, author of “Out of Darkness” and a former high school English teacher, said public book challenges are troubling. But she’s more concerned about what may be happening behind the scenes.

“I've heard from librarians (that) folks are being quietly asked to pull materials preemptively. And I think that’s even more alarming – the chilling effect,” Perez said.

“It's much harder to respond to that kind of softer censorship that’s occurring.”

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.