The book ban controversy has roiled these Oklahoma communities.this is what happened

In Stillwater, school library books are the latest moral outrage to dominate school board meetings.

Two books from Tulsa Public Schools have been pulled from shelves after a post from a right-wing Twitter account went viral.

In Norman, the resignation of a high school English teacher who posted links to banned books in class drew national attention.

In these three Oklahoma communities, a heated debate over school library books is over.

Calls to ban books have been around for decades, but a coordinated social media effort can spread them farther and farther at lightning speed. Now, complaints from a few are threatening to spark a blanket ban or lead to fear-based self-censorship — limiting book choices for thousands of students in a school district.

“What we’re really talking about here is a vocal minority trying to decide what other people’s families, other people’s children should read to advance their own agenda,” said Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada, president. American Library Association.

The group’s most recent poll found that 71 percent of voters opposed the push to remove books from public libraries.

Yet more attempts have been made to ban or restrict books in U.S. schools than at any point in the 20 years tracked by the American Library Association, with at least 681 such attempts as of August. In 2021, there will be 729 — the most the organization has recorded in a single year. Most targeted multiple titles.

Many have sought to remove texts with central themes of racism and gender identity as part of a pushback against so-called bans on criticism of racial theories, such as Oklahoma’s 1775 House Act. Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” “The Hate U Give,” and other books by Angie Thomas and Maya Kirbaby Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir” is the most frequently challenged.

To be sure, Stillwater, Norman, and Tulsa aren’t the only communities focusing their time and resources on evaluating books in question. Last November, a community group challenged 47 books at Bristol Public Schools, a rural community 30 miles southwest of Tulsa.

The district pulled the books for review, placing Bristol on PEN America’s national banned books list, according to the district’s Facebook post. (The group sees this as a ban because students have been unable to access the books for a while.)

In the end, eight books were removed, nine were not found in the district, and 30 were still available, according to Bristow.

The situation inspired a state law that went into effect Nov. 1 requiring school libraries to reflect “community standards” and include age-appropriate materials. But the bill, authored by Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, doesn’t describe how the community sets those standards.

“Yes, it’s vague, but it’s vague and lets local districts decide what’s appropriate and what’s not,” Hilbert said.

The bill distances the state from the standards of national organizations like the American Library Association. It’s one of several bills this year targeting school library content, but it’s the only one approved by the legislature. Other, more aggressive legislation would give individual parents greater powers to remove books from libraries and impose fines on librarians if they don’t comply.

Stillwater: From masks to bathrooms to books

In Stillwater, home to the state’s second-largest public university, community members clashed over COVID-19 precautions in 2020, and city officials lifted masks in stores and restaurants after workers were threatened with violence. School board meetings have also become tense, requiring security personnel.

This spring, the school board faced renewed scrutiny over complaints about its policies allowing students to use bathrooms of the gender they identify with because of the mask requirement. Education Minister Ryan Walters asked them to change their policy to allow “students to only use bathrooms of their God-given natural sex”. In May, a new state law requiring students to use the gendered bathroom or single toilet on their original birth certificate at all Oklahoma schools forced the district to make changes.

Before the students returned from summer, residents began filling out the public comment section of the school board meeting, raving about the library books.

Stillwater resident Riley Flack, who recalled the city’s mayor and city council over the city’s mask mandate in 2020, appeared on Fox News in April to tell Stillwater special school bathroom policy, from a challenged book, Me and Earl and the Dying Maiden. The characters used the same derogatory term for female genitalia that Donald Trump used in Access Hollywood audio released a month before the 2016 presidential election.

“I don’t feel comfortable reading this book to adults. Thirteen-year-olds can read this book. You bought it for them and provided it for them, and it needs to be corrected ASAP,” Fleck said.

Walters posted a video to his Twitter account. “Stillwater, don’t put pornography in front of kids,” he said, calling their process for evaluating the books in question “unacceptable.”

These public complaints far outnumber written complaints, including only one as of August. That book, Seventeen Guides to Sex and the Body, still appears in online catalogs despite being lost for over a decade.

Supporters of maintaining access to books are also speaking out. Robin Fuxa, a parent and assistant professor of education at Oklahoma State University, wrote about the dangers of book censorship in a 2017 blog post.

“Children are sharp and they read with their own moral compass. Those values ​​that are usually instilled in the family are used to guide them in their reading. As some might fear, books have no corrupting power,” she said in an Aug. 9 report. said at a school board meeting. “Books do have a different power. They have the power to save lives by making children feel seen.”

Tulsa: Deletion of a book stems from social media posts

In July, Tik Tok’s Twitter account Libs caused a storm with a viral post about Tulsa Public Schools, the state’s largest school district with 36,000 students. The post criticized the region for carrying the books “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and “Flamer.” In response, the school district removed the books from the library.

Joy Hofmeister, director of public education, and Walters, a candidate for state superintendent, expressed their anger.

Walters said he posted images from the book on his Facebook page, but the posts were censored. “It’s a sad day when Facebook’s standards are higher than the (supervisor) Gist in Tulsa Public Schools.”

Hofmeister called on the school district to remove the books. “This is inappropriate pornography. This is pornography that does not belong in any public school library,” she wrote. Hoffmeister expanded her stance, calling on all public schools to withdraw the equally objectionable material.

According to the Tulsa Public Schools, it has not received a written complaint from the district’s parents or teachers. District library services manager Vicki Ruzicka said this is the first time the district has withdrawn books before receiving a formal complaint.

“Parents and teachers are sharing social media posts with our district’s leadership. Sexual statements in posts are something our leaders take very seriously, as it violates our own policies,” she said.

Gender Queer: A Memoir is the most banned book in 2021, according to the American Library Association. This is a memoir about the author’s journey to emerge as a non-binary. A handful of the book’s many illustrations depict nude figures and sexual scenes — images that critics have spread on social media.

Dozens of schools have pulled the book from shelves, and Republican officials in a handful of states have called for it to be banned. In Michigan, a backlash turned residents of a town against public libraries and voted narrowly in August to defund libraries, The Washington Post reported.

But last month, a Virginia judge dismissed a lawsuit that sought to declare “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and another book, “Fog and Furious Court,” obscene for children and restrict distribution of these books. The judge cited state law as well as principles enshrined in the U.S. Constitution in dismissing the lawsuit.

Books like “Gender Queer” can be controversial because of their connection to the LGBTQ community, Ruzicka said.

“The characters in these books don’t have a mainstream gender identity. They represent a community that I think needs to be represented in literature,” she said. “It is concerning that the attack appears to be taking place in that community.”

In Norman, the question of the correct application of the law

News of the high school teacher Summer Boismier’s resignation in August, just days into the new school year, fell heavily on the Norman community, who remain overwhelmed by the recently fired photo of threatening graffiti in a high school bathroom. Another teacher was shocked.

Norman Public Schools responded to House Bill 1775, which prohibits certain conversations about race and gender in schools, requiring teachers to read every book in class or provide two sources to warrant its appropriateness.

Boismier responded by covering her bookshelf with red flesh paper and writing “Books the country doesn’t want you to read.” She attached a QR code linked to the Brooklyn Public Library’s “Forbidden Books” series, which gives young people free access to books that may be banned in schools.

One parent complained that Boismier resigned after meeting with district administrators. After Walters publicly called for her teaching credentials to be revoked, Boycemill began receiving threatening messages and had to leave her home.

She has also seen a lot of support. A group of mothers used QR codes to create courtyard signs, and a local bookstore was selling banned book T-shirts. A church in Oklahoma City hosted a reading of a forbidden book.

Norman’s principal, Nick Migliorino, apologised in a written statement, saying the timing and manner of instruction to teachers “did not hit the mark”. He said the parent’s complaint was limited to the teacher’s political speeches in the classroom — no violation of House Bill 1775, or any books in her classroom, or the QR codes she provided.

Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore, said he thinks House Bill 1775, which he wrote, is often misunderstood, and sometimes, as in Norman, taken out of context.

“A lot of people are saying that if someone feels guilty or ashamed then we’re breaking the law, that’s not what the law says. It says you don’t teach it in a way that makes them feel guilty or ashamed, “He says.

He said he doesn’t intend for teachers to self-censor their bookshelves or stop teaching certain novels, just be careful to teach them in a way that doesn’t violate the eight concepts stipulated by law.

West said he was pleased to hear from the superintendent of Moore Public Schools recently about several of the books in question and how the district is handling the complaints.

“I would prefer that people go through the whole process before reviewing these arguments in the media or on social media, because there is a process,” he said.

Reporter Ari Fife contributed to this story.

“Oklahoma Watch at is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering public policy issues facing the state.”

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