Challenges to books increase in region, but still rare

National library organization reports record number of book challenges in 2022.

Credit: Jim Noelker

Credit: Jim Noelker

School and library officials in the area say there has been an increased number of attempts to ban books and movies in the last year.

Shannon Cox, the Montgomery County Education Service Center superintendent, which works with schools all over the county, said all the schools in the county have reported some level of a parent bringing in a book with concerns about its content, from a parent contacting a teacher and the teacher giving an alternative assignment for the student to read to a parent bringing a book to a school board meeting.

“I think it’s just one of the topics in a pretty hyperpolarized community,” Cox said. “We were just seeing more of it.”

Cox said she had no reports of local schools removing books altogether. More often teachers and administrators make accommodations to address individual parents’ concerns.

The Dayton Daily News found one local school district is reviewing a complaint about an unspecified book, and another is auditing its collection to make sure materials are age appropriate.

Jeffrey Trzeciak, executive director for Dayton Metro Library, said he has gotten four or five challenges to books and movies in the two years he has been at the library, and none of those challenges resulted in removing material from shelves.

A recent report from the American Library Association said attempted book bans and restrictions at school and public libraries set a record in 2022. More than 1,200 challenges were recorded by the association in 2022, nearly double the total in 2021, which set a record at the time.

Local examples

Broadly, both Trzeciak and Cox said the books being challenged are books by and about LGBTQ+ people or by and about people of color.

Cox said additionally, some parents have challenged books with topics on human sexuality and development as kids get older, and books with curse words.

Trzeciak said one movie that was challenged in the library’s system was “Avengers: Endgame,” which a patron said had a sex scene in the movie. Library staff watched the movie — which is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence — and found no hidden sex scenes in the movie.

Another book, challenged in 2021, was “Ritu Weds Chandni,” by Ameya Narvankar. The picture book follows a young girl saving her cousin’s wedding, which involves two Hindu women marrying one another, and won multiple awards.

Neither item was removed from the shelves.

“Anyone’s welcome to their opinion regarding a book, but what they’re not welcome to do is prevent other people from reading that book,” Trzeciak said. “It’s a very individual choice and it should be up to the individual reader to decide whether or not it’s appropriate for them.”

At Dayton Public Schools, one challenge came from Carlos Buford of Black Lives Matter Dayton, who accompanied a Black parent to a school board meeting on Feb. 21 to discuss “Ellen Foster” by Kaye Gibbons. The book follows Ellen, who lives in an unspecified Southern town, through a tough family situation.

Ellen has racist views towards Black people, but also has a close Black friend, Starletta. The book uses a derogatory term towards Black people.

Elizabeth Lolli, DPS superintendent, told the parent to ask the teacher for a different book and said the book was not on the district’s approved curriculum list. Neither Buford nor the district responded to requests for further comment.

In March, parents at Kettering Schools questioned whether a viewing of the movie “Glory,” which is an R-rated movie on the Civil War, was appropriate for middle schoolers.

“After reviewing the movie, it has been determined that the graphic nature of the R-rated version is not age-appropriate for our middle school students, and the decision was made to not show our students this version of the movie this year,” said Kari Basson, spokeswoman for Kettering Schools. “Our Teaching & Learning Department is working to find an alternative to the movie that provides meaningful, engaging and age-appropriate ways for students to learn the standards aligned to our Civil War Unit.”

Beavercreek City Schools spokeswoman Anaka Rettig said the district had gotten a complaint from a parent about a book, which was currently undergoing a review process. She said the administrator who had the name of the book is currently on spring break.

District doing book audit

In Brookville, “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl,” by Jesse Andrews, a book approved for a College Credit Plus class, was removed in November from the general library, where anyone in grades 4-12 could access it, and put into an area where a librarian would verify if the student was in high school and in a CCP class.

The book ranks among the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books. It’s about a teenage boy who befriends a girl with leukemia, and is criticized for explicit language.

Brookville Superintendent Jason Wood said the book had been purchased in 2013, had only been checked out three times total, and had not been checked out since 2019.

Wood said the district is now doing a book audit.

“We’re just trying to make sure there is appropriate material for the grade level,” Wood said.

He said if a student tried to check out a book with themes not appropriate for their age, the school has been reaching out to parents for permission. The district has a form on their website for parents to submit specific complaints.

Why is this happening?

Cox said she thinks people have been reconsidering what really matters to them during the pandemic, and some of what is showing up now in schools, with a lot of debate over curriculum and books, is a result of that.

“I really don’t believe that humans are just trying to beat up other humans about their belief systems, but I do think that they are trying to kind of gain control back of what they value and what they think is important in their lives,” Cox said.

Social media has been amplifying some of these discussions, both Cox and Trzeciak said.

Trzeciak said the increase in library material challenges can be challenging for libraries, who serve the public and circulate materials of broad interest.

“From the library’s perspective, the book bans are about limiting voices,” Trzeciak said. “So preventing authors of color, people from the LGBT community from contributing to the conversation. And from that perspective, it really is an attack on one of the core tenets of our democracy, which is the freedom to read.”

Trzeciak said the point of the library is to welcome everyone, no matter who they are. Having books on all kinds of people, allowing people to see themselves represented in a book, is a key part of welcoming everyone.

“It creates a sense of belonging,” Trzeciak said. “Shouldn’t we all have that? That’s why it’s important.”

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