At a recent Attleboro School Committee meeting, a group of parents read excerpts from books aimed at students in their early teens.
They called the books pornographic and said they were available to fifth and sixth graders in the Attleboro middle school libraries.
This is not the case.
Attleboro schools have a long-standing policy of allowing parents to control their child’s access to books and other library materials. It’s a smart policy that all area school committees should adhere to as a national trend toward book banning grows.
Attleboro School Committee officials said there appears to be a national grassroots movement to try to have certain books or topics removed from schools, and that the small group of local citizens used examples of books and topics from that national grassroots movement.
Some books have gained criticism by conservatives across the country who say they encourage children to become gay or transgender or feel bad about their race. The titles drawing national scrutiny include “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” “The Hate U Give,” “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” “The Bluest Eye” and more.
Because of the activity by the small group of local parents — who also sought to delete $18,000 from next year’s school budget earmarked for library supplies, including new books — and because of the national trend, the school committee felt the need to reiterate its policy.
There’s little doubt that book banning is on the rise. A recent report by the American Library Association found that libraries faced nearly double the number of book challenges in 2022 than the previous year.
The sharp increase prompted the Massachusetts School Library Association to start collecting its own data. Prior to 2021, book challenges in the Bay State were so few and far between that the MSLA just relied on national numbers. But since fall 2022, there have been 22 challenges. That number may be lower than the reality because not all libraries in the state are MSLA libraries.
In January of this year, concerns over book bans in school libraries led the American Civil Liberties Union and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders to pen an open letter to Massachusetts libraries to resist calls to remove books from school libraries. The letter was in response to Old Rochester Regional School District’s move to review books deemed inappropriate by concerned parents.
The trend is not limited to the conservative, red states. A bill now before the Rhode Island legislature would allow a small group of parents to keep some books out of the schools.
We agree wholeheartedly that parents should have the right to determine what their children access. The government should never tell parents how to raise their children.
We also agree that a group of appointed parents — essentially a government panel — should not be deciding which books all students can access.
“The books in question are not being forced upon any students, and families have the right to limit their students’ access to them as they see fit,” school committee Vice Chairman Rob Geddes said of the decision to reiterate the policy. “In my opinion, it is the family’s choice to determine what their student should and should not access, and the current policy and practice of the schools allows for that.”
The Attleboro school policy balances those competing views. It should serve as a model for all local towns.