Respect Equality

Missouri school districts removing library books that may be found ‘explicit’ under new law

“This is concerning on many levels,” the Missouri Association of School Librarians wrote in a statement.
Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books, including “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison, that have been the subject of complaints from parents in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Story at a glance

  • Missouri school districts have reportedly begun pulling books from libraries that could be deemed “sexually explicit” under a new law that will take effect this month.

  • Under the law passed in June, Missouri public school faculty, staff and administrators may be charged with a class A misdemeanor – carrying a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine – for supplying “explicit sexual material” to students.

  • The Missouri Association of School Librarians has cautioned its members against removing library books in anticipation of the law going into effect.

Some Missouri school districts have begun removing books from their libraries that could potentially be flagged as “sexually explicit” under a new law taking effect at the end of the month that may charge school officials with supplying sexual content to minors.

Under a law signed by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) in June, public school administrators, faculty and staff that provide “explicit sexual material” to a minor student will be charged with a class A misdemeanor – carrying a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The law, which will take effect Aug. 28, defines “explicit sexual material” as any images or written descriptions of sexual acts or nudity, but qualifies that such restrictions do not apply to learning materials with diagrams about human anatomy or content relating to classical works of art.

“School library collections contain both works of art and informational texts, and school library books, whether fiction or non-fiction, meet both of those requirements,” the Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL) wrote Tuesday in a statement. “Therefore, school districts should refrain from pre-emptively removing school library materials” to comply with the new law.

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MASL said it was aware that some Missouri school districts have been removing library books considered vulnerable to challenges from parents once the law officially takes effect.

“This is concerning on many levels,” MASL wrote in the statement, adding that the group understands “the immense impact of facing a challenge and will support our librarians in solidarity to preserve intellectual freedom.”

Similar measures to restrict sexualized content in schools has drawn criticism from free speech and civil rights advocates who say such policies target books about LGBTQ+ issues or identities and titles written by authors of color.

In February, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Missouri filed a lawsuit against the Wentzville School District after it removed seven books from school libraries that dealt with issues surrounding race, sexual orientation and gender identity. In February, the Wentzville Board of Education backtracked on its decision to permanently ban Toni Morrison’s  “The Bluest Eye,” but six other books – most of which center on LGBTQ+ characters – remain banned.

On Monday, a Wentzville School District administrator sent an email to district librarians instructing them to immediately remove titles that may violate the new law from school libraries, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“Starting now we need you to review your libraries for materials matching the language in this state statute,” the administrator reportedly wrote. “If you come across a text that needs to be removed … pull the book from the shelf.”

Nationwide, close to 1,600 individual instances of books being banned were reported between January and March this year, according to the nonprofit PEN America. More than 40 percent of those bans were tied to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books in schools.