What is “soft” censorship? When School Districts Don’t Ban Books, They Still Limit Student Access

The restrictions on books stem in large part from prejudice against historically marginalized groups, said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“The fact is that gay people, gay and transgender people, African Americans, Latinos, Indigenous people have finally found a voice and a place in our society and have found a voice and a place in libraries,” a- she declared. “Now we are seeing an effort to erase these voices, to stigmatize these individuals and send a message of exclusion which, given that these are public institutions, should not be happening at all.”

The use of soft censorship to limit access to school book collections is not unique to Texas. In states such as Utah, Virginia, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Florida and California, school districts have adopted policies that give parents more control over what students read, alarming critics who say these restrictions violate students’ right to free speech, ignore the training of school librarians, and send harmful messages about the targeted books.

Alpine School District, the largest in Utah, decided in July to remove 52 books by 41 authors, including Jodi Picoult’s “Nineteen Minutes”, Judy Blume’s “Forever” and Mariko Tamaki’s “This One Summer”, all women’s books with sex scenes or LGBTQ+ stories. In fact, 42% of the books the district chose have LGBTQ+ characters or themes, PEN America found.

The decision stemmed from the adoption in March of Bill 374, a Utah law banning “sensitive materials in public schools” after groups such as Utah Parents United pressed policymakers to take action to have books deemed obscene or inappropriate removed from schools. However, after public outcry over its decision to remove dozens of books from school libraries, the Alpine School Board temporarily suspended plans to remove these books from library shelves. Instead, it will place these books in restricted areas of school libraries and allow parents to decide whether their children can view these titles.

The board’s reversal of the book ban is a “step in the right direction,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free speech and education programs at PEN America, said in a statement. But he added that the new policy “still stands in the way of the books”.

Alpine School District did not respond to the 19th’s request for comment.

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