Banning books at KHS?

With rumors circulating, TKC wants to inform that banning books at KSD is not currently being discussed. (Audrey Turley)

Amidst conversations about certain books in KSD’s libraries, some are questioning if the district is considering permanently taking books off shelves. Banning books at KSD is not currently being discussed, however, according to KSD Superintendent David Ulrich. The issue the BOE is focusing on is the process of how library books are selected. 

At the Jan. 21 and Feb. 9 KSD board meetings, board members disagreed on whether the library media specialists follow the correct library selection procedures. Jean Marie Andrews, KSD school board president, said it’s not about book banning, but rather ensuring every book going into the library follows the set policies outlined in Policy IIAC R1. Yet, some parents find this policy unclear. 

“There are some gaps [in the policy],” Andrews said. “We want to ensure there’s a paper trail of who was consulted, and what age range the reviews determine the book is appropriate for.” 

At the Nov. 29, 2021 KSD board meeting, a community member presented a list of 20 books they believe to be controversial due to the sexual content, violence and graphic scenes: 

  • #MurderTrending by Gretchen McNeil
  • All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
  • Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown
  • Breathless by Jennifer Niven
  • Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  • Fences: A Play by August Wilson
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  • Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
  • Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 
  • The Haters by Jesse Andrews
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

Erin and Jared Keplinger, KSD parents, believe some of the topics discussed in certain books should have disclaimers to inform readers the topics embedded in the book. They are members of KFEI (Kirkwood for Educational Integrity), which is “a group of community members working for educational integrity that parents can trust,” according to their website.

“Hey, here’s a heads up there’s some content in here that’s controversial, you should know about it,” Erin said. “That is what I expect as a parent [at] a public school.” 

The Keplingers believe by reading graphic scenes in books, students could face toxic empathy, ingesting the characters’ experiences and feelings as if they are their own. They think this is another reason disclaimers for certain books would be beneficial. 

“People have varying levels of sensitivity,” Erin said. “It makes the most sense for a parent to have to sign off on [a controversial book].”

On the other hand, some KSD parents, such as Amy Wood, believe parents’ objections to these books are overcomplicated. To her, parents should instead communicate with their kids about what books they’re checking out. Having volunteered weekly in the library when her son went to Tillman, Wood believes parents should trust librarians to do their jobs because they’re experts in their field. 

It’s not about book banning, but rather ensuring every book going into the library follows the set policies outlined in Policy IIAC R1.”

“When people get overly excited about the books they see in the library, that’s not in there without any forethought,” Wood said. “Teachers are thinking about this stuff, they’re caring about kids, It’s not just some flippant decision that they make. [Parents] are putting the whole weight on the school, and it’s frustrating because they’re putting that responsibility onto the teachers and onto the librarians, but then they’re also saying ‘we don’t trust your credentials.’” 

Since receiving the list of challenged books at KSD, Wood has been reading them to learn what the topics are. She finds these books beneficial for students to read. 

“A lot of [the controversial books] are books that are giving a particular perspective,” Wood said. “I think the most valuable thing for teenagers is for them to see themselves reflected in the books they’re reading. Books are a great way to get empathy, understand the world around you, see things from another person’s perspective, and limiting that is not a good thing.” 

Ulrich wants to assure that no books are currently being banned at any KSD school. Currently, the BOE is working to refine the library policies to make them more transparent and up to date. While no books are petitioned to be banned currently, there is a formal process to reconsider library books. This reconsideration process outlined in policy KLB AP(1) is not being utilized for any KSD book at this time, said Ulrich.