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Librarians Back “Book Banning” Bill for Connecticut

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Image courtesy of Goshen Public Library website
Mark E. Fitch/

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A bill backed by the American Library Association that would place restrictions on local boards of education when it comes to removing a school library book received a public hearing before the General Assembly’s Education Committee amid an ongoing debate over local control and the types of books offered in school libraries.

The legislation would require that local boards of education provide a reason for removing or restricting access to a school library book. Those reasons cannot be due to partisan politics within the school board; the authors’ or book characters’ race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, political or religious views; personal discomfort with the book by board members; the author’s personal point of view on politics or current events; and the book cannot be removed if it is “related to sexual health and addresses physical, mental, emotional or social dimensions of human sexuality.”

The inclusion of certain books in public school libraries has roiled board of education meetings in Connecticut, including in Brookfield and Guilford, among others, and nationally as some parents and organizations argue the books are pushing political ideologies or are sexually explicit and contain graphic, often illustrated, depictions of sex.

Those parents and organizations have been accused of “book banning,” and supporters of including these books in school libraries argue they are necessary and helpful for students who may be experiencing puberty, questions about gender and sexuality, and support a diversity of viewpoints and experiences.

Many boards of education in Connecticut, have a process in place by which parents can file a complaint about a book in the school library, which the BOE will then consider and determine whether to keep the book. Opponents argued the bill undermines local government control. The bill was largely supported by school librarians, teachers, and children’s book authors who warned about “book bans” in schools in other states and argued that librarians should ultimately control what is available in the library. Some indicated that the furor over some books has caused them to worry about their jobs and not promote certain titles for fear of backlash.

Barbara Johnson, chair of the Connecticut Association of School Librarians, said that cultivating a wide variety of viewpoints and subject matter leads to students “cultivating a life-long love of reading,” and “intellectual curiosity.” “In school districts across Connecticut there are not only policies… for when parents have concerns, there are policies and guidelines that school librarians have to follow for the selection and choice of materials as well,” Johnson said. Johnson said the bill would not restrict what local BOE’s can do, but those BOE’s would have to supply a reason for reconsidering library materials.

Kevin Staton, library media specialist for Fairfield Public Schools, said Fairfield already has a system in place for assessing a parent’s complaint over a book and did not believe the legislation would affect that process or remove local control but rather require a reason why that book is being removed.

However, there was also opposition to the bill. “Not only does this affect publicly elected Board of Education members but also prevents parents, grandparents and community members from effectively participating in the public debate about books,” wrote Leslie Wolfgang, public policy director for the Family Institute of Connecticut. Wolfgang said. “We need to have a process where everybody can have influence on a local level to help decide what is appropriate in the public school library.”

“This bill proposal ultimately places more authority of content in public school libraries in the hands of unelected school librarians,” Zobohonski said. “The ultimate question is who is the moral authority of our kids? It’s the parents, and when you have top-down government you negate the ability of individual taxpayers and voters to have direct access to their elected officials.”

Paul Freeman, superintendent of Guilford, which has experienced plenty of controversy over their school system’s curriculum and library books, warned of “unintended consequences,” particularly as language of the bill could potentially be used against librarians during their usual culling of books from their collections. Freeman wrote. “We saw accusations of this nature leveled against a media specialist in one of our Guilford schools this past school year because of decisions she made related to Dr Suess titles in her collection.” Guilford’s school library removed several Dr. Seuss titles in 2021 coinciding with media coverage of racially problematic characters in the children’s book series. Freeman indicated the books were removed because no one was using them and the Connecticut Library Association felt they were “antiquated and outdated.”