Books will stay in West Linn-Wilsonville School District after push for ban

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KGW) — At a school board meeting Monday night, assembled West Linn-Wilsonville School District families and other attendees learned the fate of nine controversial books that some parents wanted removed from school libraries.

All of the books will remain in the school district for now, albeit with a few restrictions placed on several of them.

The push to ban these books began last year. Parents affiliated with the group Oregon Moms Union spoke at a school board meeting in November, calling on the district to pull the books due to inappropriate passages, particularly ones about sex and sexuality.

During the meeting, members of the group read passages from the books — many of which were explicit enough that they can’t be repeated on network television, at least not without considerable bleeping.

RELATED: Group of moms push West Linn-Wilsonville School District to ban books

Most of the books were either written by or about LGBTQ+ people or people of color. Several students defended the books before the board, testifying in favor of keeping them in the district.

But the concerns brought forward in November were enough for the school board to take action. In all, nine books were placed under review in accordance with district policy:

  • “The Sun and her Flowers” by Rupi Kaur
  • “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur
  • “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews
  • “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin
  • “Heartstopper, Vol. 1” by Alice Oseman
  • “Heartstopper, Vol. 2” by Alice Oseman
  • “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
  • “Flamer” by Mike Curato
  • “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins

The review policy called for the formation of a nine-member committee comprised of parents, teacher-librarians, other educators and people from the community to evaluate what to do with the books. Under that policy, the books remained on school shelves while they were being evaluated.

At Monday night’s board meeting, Superintendent Kathy Ludwig delivered the committee’s decision. That decision will be final under district policy, she said, and not subject to change by herself or the board.

According to Ludwig, all of the books were housed in libraries at the high school level, though the “Heartstopper” books, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and “Beyond Magenta” also were located at middle schools.

The committee ultimately decided against removing any of the books from the district entirely. Just two of them, “Me and Earl” and “Crank,” will be restricted to high schools only.

Very few of the books even received votes in favor of removal. On most books, a minority of committee members voted to have them restricted to specific grade levels.

Ludwig said that “Me and Earl” was already thought to be just at the high schools, but one copy was found at a middle school for an unknown reason. She said it might have had something to do with a 2015 movie based on the book resulting in increased interest.

For the books that were already at high schools only, Ludwig clarified that the unrestricted ones could later be added to a middle school library at a librarian’s discretion. The restricted ones will be blocked from lower levels going forward.

Ludwig said that these particular books, now having undergone review, can’t be placed under review again for three years.

‘Every family can decide’

The format of the West Linn-Wilsonville School Board meeting Monday night meant that public comment came well after Ludwig’s delivery of the committee’s decision. But late that evening, people on either side of the issue got a chance to say their piece.

Jeff Garcia said that he has children at West Linn-Wilsonville schools, and he’s relieved at the outcome.

“I’m thankful that this board is not going the way of Texas and Florida,” Garcia told KGW. “They’re keeping their heads on and they’re protecting my kids. They’re protecting the rest of the community. And I know that these books — I read them. I know that ‘Flamer’ can save somebody’s life. A guy’s life. A kid’s life. I know that ‘Lawn Boy’ … it’s ok to be human. ‘Milk and Honey,’ it’s a literary masterpiece. Some of the passages in ‘Milk and Honey’ blew my mind.”

“The attempt to infringe on these rights is rooted in political ideology and moral prescriptivism,” another parent testified Monday night. “The notion that a fellow parent, not an educator, should dictate the books that are available to our kids is simply outrageous. In this great country, every family can decide on the value system that reflects their beliefs. This is what makes us uniquely American. And I have a warning to the group in support of this moral policing: If your child has ever used the internet — be it for casual searching, gaming or social media —they have been exposed to far greater dangerous material than what will ever be found on our library shelves.”

Tricia Britton, school district captain for the Oregon Moms Union and leader of the effort to have these books removed, said that she’s not giving up on the issue — she’ll be back at next month’s meeting.

“I think this is going to be a disappointing outcome for parents,” Britton told KGW, “but I think we’re gonna continue the dialogue and just continue to express our concerns with regards to the lack of policy and just with how the committee process was completed.”

Another parent testified that she wanted to keep these books out of school libraries to protect her daughter from being exposed to passages about sex abuse.

“I am disappointed at the book review committee. I’m glad it happened. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the outcome,” she said. “It’s disappointing for me as a mother of a sexual assault victim from when she was 7 years old. Nobody gets to walk up here or anywhere and say that the way I parent or the way anybody parents is wrong, you’ve never walked that. You don’t understand how wildly protective you become over every situation.”

The district does have a policy, like many other public school districts, that parents can block their own kids from checking out certain books in the library by contacting the school’s librarian.

Teacher Matt Bell testified that going to the school’s librarian directly is the best first step for parents with concerns about a book, rather than taking the crusade to the school board. No student is ever forced to read a library book that is inappropriate for them, he said.

“Our teacher-librarians are dedicated, certified professionals following local, state, and federal guidelines, and maintaining our library resources with the goal of supporting our students as lifelong readers,” Bell said. “Their goal is to make sure that students have access to books that fit them as individual readers, and our students are extremely diverse. When community members challenged several books this year, none of their concerns were brought directly to teacher librarians.”

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