Censoship targets shelves



Books in the library and English curriculum are potentially going to be banned from shelves. Several community groups have been sending emails and letters to district officials, requesting that certain titles be removed from the shelves. 

These groups argue many negative things about the books that may contain sensitive themes, language that is not appropriate for students, and material that could have a negative impact on their overall morals. 

During public comment, at the May 11 board meeting, a parent named Laurie expressed these concerns while commenting on the book “Looking for Alaska” which can be found in some libraries in the district.

“It shouldn’t matter whether it’s library material or curriculum, you [referring to the board] are handing it to the children,” she said. “What is next? What will we be exposing to the kids next? How will the board and some of the staff attempt to divide the kids from their parents next?”

However, former Roseville High School library Lauren Zdybel believes teachers and libraries should be responsible for deciding which materials are available or used in curriculum.

“The idea of district or community members who have no training or knowledge making decisions about what books should be purchased is just simply wrong. They do not have the education. They don’t know how,” retired librarian Lauren Zdybel said.

This controversy has raised questions about censorship, freedom of expression, and access to information. While some parents and community members may have concerns about the contents of certain books,  district librarian Zena Treto believes that removing books from the shelves of these libraries is a form of censorship.  

“The district does not want to be known as book banners, that’s a very negative label,” Treto said. “They absolutely do not want that label put upon themselves.”

The district is in a position that could potentially hinder the process, as they try to balance concerns from these groups and the rest of the community with the principles of intellectual freedom and access to information.

One solution the district is attempting to implement is a system that reviews books that are requested to be banned. So far the system consists of books that are submitted for review getting taken off of shelves and then read by people who decide whether or not they are appropriate for high school libraries. This process currently takes about a month.

Another solution the district is trying, is putting a complete pause on librarians purchasing new books. Librarians are unaware when or if they will be able to purchase new books again. Treto is unhappy that she can’t purchase new books and believes that by doing this the district is banning many books.

“They will deny that they are banning books but when you cannot purchase them that’s banning a lot of books or censoring quite a few books,” Treto said.

Along with some books being possibly banned in libraries, there is also a debate going on about which books are taught in curriculum. According to Treto the requirements and guidelines for books in the classroom are separate from the requirements of books in the library.

“Curriculum is something you’re having a student read in class that is a requirement,” Treto said. We are a library and we are governed by different rules because we wouldn’t tell you to check out this particular book or you must read this book.”

Currently, in the curriculum there is a system used for when books are challenged that is different from the one used on library books. According to Assistant Superintendent in charge of Curriculum, April Moore, the current approval process has multiple levels of approval starting in small groups and then later going to the board for approval. However, this system does not target smaller works or texts, giving teachers the autonomy in their classroom to introduce new material as they see fit.  

“There’s a lot of other things we would do in a classroom, poems, articles, clips, just in time news that may be appropriate for the classroom,” Moore said. “It’s either the big works that are Board approved through the curriculum, or it’s those smaller works that the teachers have agency over that they’re using their professional judgment to review and to select.

According to English department chair Amy Marsh this system does not require them to take away the books, but requires them to supply the district with information about the books on their own. Recently, English teachers were asked to provide information on some core texts such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” which had been a staple in English 9 for more than a decade.

“We have not been directed to pull any from our current shelves so to say,” Marsh said. “There have been some that have been questioned where we have to provide to the district what levels we use it at, what units we use it at, what standards we address through those novels and what capacity we use them whether its a full class instruction or in book clubs or as a choice book for independent reading and just providing information that way but nothing has come to us in terms of you can no longer use this book.

Treto has been a librarian for multiple years and is passionate about censorship because she believes the library is a place where you can choose the information you want to gain and no one should be able to hold you from that.

“The library is about choice, it’s about mental health support for students, it’s about being able to explore and it’s about all the perspectives being out there,” Treto said. “So that’s the difference and I think the lines get blurred because people are unclear as far as the laws that govern school libraries and the laws that govern classrooms.”

The biggest difference between curriculum and library books is the choice. With books that are taught in curriculum the rules are much stricter because you are required to read it. But with libraries it’s all about choice and according to Zdybel if students or families find a book inappropriate, it’s as simple as not checking it out.

“Simply put, if the book offends you, don’t check it out” Zdybel said. “Every family and every child has the right to make that decision. But, and this is a huge point, no family or child has the right to decide for anybody else in the community what they should and should not read.”

Marsh shares a similar passion to Zydbel, believing that what is right or wrong for one family may not be the same for another.

“When we’re taking things away based on our own values we are hindering the ability of another family to access what they may need, crave or want,” Marsh said. “So while we can say for our own families what is not okay I don’t believe it’s okay to say it’s not okay for another family and I thinks that where we are getting into some stickiness with the trying to ban or pull books is when we press our own values on others is when in public education it becomes a problem.”

In the English department there are standards teachers  must abide by and to truly educate students. According to Marsh, many of these recent challenges to materials that district teachers may, or may not, be using casts teachers in a negative light.  

“I think there is sometimes a level of distrust that becomes a hindrance to schools and communities working as a team, and when that trust, whether it is a trust of professionalism and realizing we are not pedophiles and groomers,” Marsh said. “We are not going to put things in front of students that are shocking and graphic on purpose, for shock value, there are literary standards at which we adhere.”