Students Sue Missouri School District For Recent Book Bans

UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1960s: Library books on shelves, in sunlight and shadows. (Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/Retrofile/Getty Images) TPM illustration/Getty Images.
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Two students in Missouri’s Wentzville School District on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the district over the banning of multiple books in the district’s libraries.

Plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, identified only by the initials C.K.-W. and D.L., are minors. They are represented by lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

The lawsuit alleges that the district’s decision to remove books was based on the “dislike of the ideas or opinions contained in the books by policymakers, school officials, community members, or a combination of those.”

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the district’s removal of books violated the students’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights “by restricting their access to ideas and information for an improper purpose.”

The lawsuit was filed in federal court just hours before the Wentzville School Board voted 7-0 to keep a challenged book in school libraries — “Gabi, a Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero, a coming-of-age story about a Mexican-American teenager that was reportedly challenged by parents for supposed foul language and depictions of rape.

“I did think that it offered some value to a teenager, and I do think that there were some good lessons that I’m sure would be learned,” said board member Sandy Garber, who was on the review committee, during the board meeting on Tuesday.

According to the lawsuit, other books the district has removed from libraries include “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Johnson, “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel, “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon, “Invisible Girl” by Lisa Jewell, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari.

TPM reached out to the ACLU and its Missouri chapter for comment.

The Missouri district school board also voted last month to yank “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison from the district’s high school libraries in response to another parent’s challenge. The book itself is not even part of the district curriculum.

The student-led lawsuit against the Wentzville School District comes amid the rise of school boards nationwide that have moved to remove books from libraries and curricula, or outright ban them. Many of the books being challenged and yanked from schools depict the experiences of marginalized people.

The book-banning trend is largely a manifestation of GOP-fueled grievance issues infiltrating school boards and local community politics in the past year.

GOP governors have spent the past year railing against COVID protocols in classrooms and Republican-controlled legislatures in states across the U.S. have passed legislation targeting school mask mandates and the teaching of so-called Critical Race Theory in public schools.

The book banning movement is just the latest iteration of this trend. Videos of outraged parents at school board meetings around the country have surfaced in recent months, with parents alleging that the books they take issue with contain so-called “sexually explicit” content. And their arguments typically lack context. Parents are often seen in videos cherry-picking quotes they claimed to be offended by in books.

In many cases, school boards, principals and librarians acquiesced to the grievances aired by outraged parents at board meetings. The removal of books from schools and libraries across the country often bypass formal reconsideration guidelines by the American Library Association (ALA) for those who “are concerned about the appropriateness of library resources or are unsatisfied with the response from an informal discussion about a title.”

Meanwhile, legislation to ban books in schools with so-called “sexually explicit” content has since ramped up on the state and local level, too. Late last month, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) voiced his push for more scrutiny of school libraries in an effort for students to consume “age appropriate” content. Lee’s sentiment echos moves by other conservative officials, such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who are attempting to ban “obscene content” in public schools and to investigate “pornographic” materials in public schools.

“We are proposing a new law that will ensure parents know what materials are available to students in their libraries,” Lee said during his annual address to the Republican-controlled Legislature late last month. “This law will also create greater accountability at the local level so parents are empowered to make sure content is age-appropriate.”

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