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These are the 22 books removed from Utah’s Alpine School District

Banned Books Week, University of Utah Library, book display, Sept. 19, 2022
Martha Harris
/
KUER
A display at the University of Utah Library during Banned Books Week showing some of the top banned or challenged books in Utah, Sept. 19, 2022.

The Alpine School District has removed 22 books from its libraries after they were reviewed by committees and deemed “pornographic or indecent.”

Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature passed a law banning “sensitive materials” in public schools.

In August, the Alpine School District pulled 52 books from library shelves for review after parent complaints. PEN America, an organization that advocates for freedom of expression, called the removal a “worrisome escalation of censorship,” and later reported that the district had decided to temporarily restrict the books instead of completely removing them. In September, the Alpine School District approved a new policy to guide book challenges and reviews.

District Superintendent Shane Farnsworth told state legislators during an Education Interim Committee meeting on Nov. 16 that as of that date, 49 of the 52 books had been reviewed and 22 had been permanently removed.

KUER obtained a list of which books were permanently removed after going through the district’s new review process:

The list also shows 17 books are now restricted, meaning they require parental approval or are limited by age, and 10 were put back on shelves.

Author Paisley Rekdal leads PEN America’s Utah Chapter and said she was not surprised by the specific books that were removed.

“The type of books that they pulled tend to fit the national profile of other books that have been banned, which is that they are primarily written by LGBTQ authors or deal with issues of sexuality, gender, LGBTQ issues, as well as race and racial identity,” she said.

Several of the books that the Alpine School District removed are among the most challenged books of 2021, according to the American Library Association. In August, PEN America said 42% of the 52 books the district pulled for review featured LGBTQ characters and/or themes.

Rekdal was, however, surprised by how many of the reviewed books were eventually banned.

Utah law defines sensitive material as something that is “pornographic or indecent” and is not an instructional material used for medical courses, family and consumer science course, or another class that the state school board exempts.

Rekdal doesn’t think any of the books the district removed can be considered “pornography,” and the same goes for materials in any school library

“That is not to say that you will not pick up a book that has sexual content in it,” she said. “Literature has sexual content as part of a story that tells you something greater about human nature and about the human condition and experience. It’s not there just to titillate.”

Instead, Rekdal thinks books are meant to provoke nuanced discussion.

“A democracy depends on an educated and literate population, a population that's curious and able to think for itself and to read widely,” she said. “And whenever we start limiting access to literature and ideas and information, we're limiting our children's ability to think complexly, to think for themselves.”

Alpine School District policies state that an “instructional material review committee” has to have at least one school administrator and two teachers appointed by the school’s principal. There also must be more parents on the committee than school employees. But Rekdal said review committees should primarily be made up of professional educators who received training in First Amendment rights.

“I think right now because they [the committees] are composed mostly of non-professionals who are very impassioned and who have not received this training, people are going to make decisions based on emotions and their ideas about their children and what they want them to read,” Rekdal said.

For some proponents of removing certain books from schools, only pulling 22 books is not enough. Steve Sparti, a parent in the district who has worked with members of the conservative Utah Parents United to encourage the removal of books, said he wants any book that has a “graphic depiction of sex” to be removed from schools.

“This should have been a five-minute conversation to be like, ‘Yeah, you know what? That’s inappropriate and we’re putting in steps to make sure that we get rid of all of this inappropriate stuff today,’” he said.

Age restrictions were another piece of the review process Sparti said should be rethought. He maintained those books should be removed outright.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s a cure for cancer in there, it’s inappropriate for children,” he said. “If you want your kids to read that stuff, you can go to the local library and check those books out.”

Sparti said he thinks the district might be run by “groomers” because they did not take immediate action to remove books he called pornographic. It’s a charge that’s been leveled nationwide against librarians, educators and authors in the battle over book bans.

During the Nov. 16 committee meeting, Alpine School District Board of Education President Mark Clement vouched for educators and said they are not trying to give pornography to children.

“We have had police arrive at a library because someone’s reported that there’s people distributing pornography to children, which has scared our librarians and made them less effective,” Clement told legislators.

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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