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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Washington County parents want to ban some books from their schools’ libraries

Front view from a book hall in a library.
Thi Soares
Nationwide, more people are trying to remove certain books from libraries. In Washington County, parents are leading an effort to ban some books from schools.

Some parents in Washington County are trying to ban several books from school libraries. There’s also been a 60% increase nationwide in book challenges, or efforts to remove materials, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Most of the books the Washington County parents are concerned about have to do with race or sexual and gender identity. They also have explicit language and references.

Steve Dunham, the spokesperson for the county school district, said they’re working with the state to review materials. But he also said educators take many factors into consideration when choosing books.

“It's important that everything is put into context of the books and the quality of literature we get. That's why these books are in our libraries,” he said. “They have been recognized and received awards for their writing on the subject matter they cover.”

Dunham said the recent discussion started when a local parent asked if certain books were in school libraries. The titles in question include “The Hate U Give,” “Out of Darkness,” “This One Summer” and “George.” The district confirmed those were in libraries, and now that parent and others are seeking to get them removed.

They’re concerned about content, and that some of these books are available in elementary schools.

“We cannot take lightly the impact we have on students and our responsibility to call out the greatness in them,” the parent wrote in a letter to district leaders and posted on Facebook. “I am a firm believer that this is done by providing children with good literature, filled with inspiring, morally strong themes and characters.”

Dunham said speaking from personal experience, his child recently read one of these books in an advanced language arts class. He said it was helpful for them to discuss it in a classroom setting.

“Let's trust some of these educators. They have good lessons to share and help our children grow and learn about other cultures, other lifestyles, other nationalities, other … everything,” he said.

Katie Wegner is a co-chair of the Utah Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, and she supports librarians and teachers who face challenges to materials.

“Every student and every parent and guardian have the right to choose what to read. However, it's censorship when any one individual or group tries to make that choice for everyone,” Wegner, who’s also the branch manager for the Kamas Valley Library, said. “As librarians, we see the power of books and reading every day. Books can change lives, and they can save lives.”

Wegner’s co-chair on the committee, Debbie Short, pointed out the nationwide uptick in book challenges. She said there aren’t numbers specifically for Utah, but she said the trend likely tracks in conservative parts of the state.

Erika George is the director of the Tanner Humanities Center and law professor at the University of Utah. She said the effort to ban books from schools and public libraries isn’t new, but the current trend is concerning given other “skirmishes” happening at local school boards.

“It has a real ‘Fahrenheit 451’ energy to me, quite frankly — the notion that there are some texts that can't be discussed, that can't be read, that can't be engaged with,” she said. “It's really kind of the preconditions that we see in societies that aren't free and that aren't open.”

George said it can be harmful to censor books that address gender and sexual identity, especially given the high rates of suicide among LGBTQ youth in the state. She said people should be mindful of the stigma a ban gives those topics.

“If we have less information, I think we are poorer for it,” she said. “I think that if we engage ideas, we don't fear them. … But if we curtail, we harm ourselves and we harm our society.”

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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