The School Board Project, Round One: Book Censorship News, May 13, 2022

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School board elections are crucial. They have always been important, but in a time of increased censorship, with big money funding campaigns by right-wing activists at the local board level and newly-elected board members choosing to overreach in their power to remove books, there has never been a more vital time in American history to know who is representing your tax money and values.

While we know what school boards do, how do we know the rest of what is necessary to elect qualified, competent individuals for school boards? What if you happen to be a person interested in running for school board?

Enter The School Board Project.

Thanks to the help of dozens of volunteers and partners, we’re building a massive database of every school board, school board election, and related information for anyone to access. This simple database provides information that is challenging to find in isolation, let alone in a large, collective, searchable, and sortable way. Because this is the work of a small group of individuals with limited time, it is and will be a slow process, but we’ll release information in batches. The methodology for determining which states to prioritize is both an art and a science: these are states with high censorship rates and upcoming elections worth preparing for, either as a voter or a candidate.

The School Board Project allows anyone to download the spreadsheets and add any relevant information that helps them. For example: individuals or groups may find including the names and stances of those running for boards in the sheet to help guide voters and/or as a means of tracking the kind of topics that are producing the most discussion in those districts. It can be useful for those considering a run for school board to collect information about what they need to do to become eligible or how long they have to prepare for a run. The possibilities here are wide open.

Because of how challenging it is to collect all of this information, it is possible there are errors in the number of seats being elected, but we’ve done the best we can with the resources that are publicly available. The current states with data available are Florida, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Virginia. The next round of updates, which will be shared when they’re finished, will include several western and mountain states.

To use the School Board Project, you’ll need to open the document and save a copy. You can work from that copy and manipulate the information as appropriate for you.

Call To Action

Are you looking for more resources on fighting book challenges and legislation targeting LGBTQ+ people? PFLAG has launched a thorough landing page with ways to fight back, including how to engage allies. This has a wealth of powerful information.

For more ways to take action against censorship, use this toolkit for how to fight book bans and challenges, as well as this guide to identifying fake news. Then learn how and why you may want to use FOIA to uncover book challenges.

Book Censorship News: May 13, 2022

The Utah Assistant Attorney General released the guidelines for books in schools and this is a solid win for intellectual freedom and the right for students to have access to books in their school libraries. Meanwhile in Tennessee, books that are “inappropriate” — whatever that means — will not be allowed in public school libraries. Here’s what the Maine Republicans were talking about last week (including book censorship). What’s at stake in New York school board elections this month. Another instance of the police showing up to investigate a complaint about books. We’re back in Granbury, Texas. I’ve put in a public records request for the police report that led to this. Indian River County Schools in Florida were cleared of charges pressed on them by Moms For Liberty members about “pornographic” books in the school libraries. All of the books challenged in Polk County, Florida will remain in the district. Several will be moved to different buildings, though. Frank Strong gives a report on how the Texas school board elections played out last week and the insights are vital for what to anticipate in elections across the country (and there are some great wins in Texas, despite some rough losses). Hudson City schools in Ohio will keep Gender Queer on shelves.
The parents who complained about 30 books in Prosper ISD (Texas) are being challenged by another group of parents who are reading and reviewing the titles in question. The books aren’t on shelves though, is the issue…A parent in Milford, Ohio, is outraged about the use of In The Time of Butterflies in a 10th grade class and has complained. Update: the book will remain.A preliminary injunction was filed in the lawsuit against Llano County Public Library. As a reminder, here are the books that were challenged and deemed “filth” by the board. It’s not just schools and libraries. The US Navy has removed books from their recommended reading after complaints. High schooler Mandy Zhang continues to petition to get Gender Queer back on shelves in Wappingers School District (NY). A Hanover County, Virginia, supervisor wants to speed up the book removal process in schools. His current target is A Place Inside of Me by Zetta Elliott. “After the purchase of 34 novels for optional reading in Newton Public Schools, Superintendent Fred Van Ranken says the district’s screening process for objectionable content isn’t strong enough.” Power and control and “not banning books” in Newton, Kansas. Medomak Valley High School in Maine had challenges against Lawn Boy and Gender Queer back in October. They were kept on shelves, but the complaints continue. From the article, “Karp said he was once again requesting the board return these books to the publisher and ask for a refund. “It breaks my heart to see this,” he added. Karp also commented he felt society has come to this point through a lack of prayer.”Fred Gets Dressed was challenged in Oakley Public Library in Kansas. I hope the Enid Public Library board does get sued. “Debi Scaggs, called the issue “a growing problem” and gave trustees a list of 84 books available in school libraries she said are problematic. She also offered a rating system devised by parents. She shared titles and the number of vulgar or inappropriate words in them.” This is in the Denton, Texas school district. Emphasis my own. Because parents know better than experts. I’m sharing this story because it’s a great example of not understanding what is really going on. What does the Dr Seuss estate’s decision to stop publishing 6 books have to do with current censorship?Remember Toby Price, who read a children’s book about a butt during a read aloud in which he was pulled to do last minute and got fired for it? The decision to fire him remains. This is absurd. Moms For Liberty has added new books to their list, so expect to see these being challenged across the country. Gender Queer is no longer available in Virginia Beach schools (VA). The next book being targeted there is Saga. These two complaints cam from a school board member.

I’m not linking to the right-wing source on this one, but It’s Perfectly Normal has been challenged at East Central Regional Library in Minnesota. Three books challenged in Canaan Schools (Vermont) will remain on shelves but the decision is likely to be challenged. In Canyon ISD (Texas), a discussion of what merits books for reconsideration. At the Westerly High School board meeting (RI), it’s possible that the student representative could be silenced. This story is something else. “I don’t have an issue if we’re giving books that’s targeting education of the Civil War and slavery and there is racism even today, but this is obviously like shoving it down every corner,” he said. Valesky said there were four books on the list that “openly promote the hate group Black Lives Matter.”“That’s a group that is for destroying,” he said. “They aren’t protecting Black lives.” — There won’t be new books purchased for Penncrest’s school libraries (PA) quite yet because a board member complained. Dirigo High School (ME) is reviewing Gender Queer after parental complaints. Warning that this purposefully misgenders the author throughout. Here’s how much Central Bucks (PA) hates queer people. Mississippi might hate queer people more.
Gavin Downing, whose story you read here, was awarded the intellectual freedom honor by the Washington Library Association.

Remember, this is the end goal:

TEXAS GOV: “Empowering parents means giving them the choice to send their children to any public/charter/private school with state💰following the student.”

The war on public schools, out loud.

(🚨SPOILER: @GovBillLee believes this too. This is their goal here in Tennessee.)

— The Tennessee Holler (@TheTNHoller) May 10, 2022

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