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The Book Banning Parade Has Come to Town

by | Aug 31, 2023

“We uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.”

– ALA Code of Ethics


Every now and then, when all the competing priorities that come with small business start to feel overwhelming, I try to remind myself, “it’s just books.”

“It’s just books,” as in, we’re not saving lives.

Except when we are.

I know books don’t necessarily do much to keep people physically safe, but books can and do save lives. Every day, readers encounter characters or personal stories in books that validate their understanding of themselves.

Books tell the truth, offer context, ask hard questions, and teach empathy. Books are the cornerstone of intellectual freedom.

And books are my expertise.

This week, principals of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools were required to send a message to all families making them aware of new district policies enacted in order to comply with the newly-adopted NC Parents’ Bill of Rights, formerly Senate Bill 49.

For context, NC SB 49 was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and subsequently vetoed by Governor Cooper. On August 16, the General Assembly, controlled by a supermajority, voted to override the veto. Six days later, the CMS School Board voted to adopt new policies in order to comply with the law, which went into effect immediately. School leaders were informed of the changes last Wednesday, five days before the new school year was to begin.

There are several notable mandates in the law, including this one:

“Instruction on gender identity, sexual activity, or sexuality shall not be included in the curriculum provided in kindergarten through fourth grade, regardless of whether the information is provided by school personnel or third parties.” N.C.G.S. § 115C-76.55

And several new CMS policies, adopted to comply with the mandates, including:

A list of library media center materials shall be established for each school level and shall be surveyed and updated on an annual basis.

“The Superintendent’s regulation shall establish a means for parents to object to textbooks and supplementary instructional materials consistent with the requirements of N.C.G.S. § 115C-98, and to object to library media center materials.”

Parents are invited to review and challenge instructional materials, and school principals are mandated to investigate and resolve challenges within 30 days.

To be clear, parents have always been able to challenge books in their children’s schools. But in the past two years, there has been a significant uptick in book challenges and bans, in part because of similar legislation passed in other states.

The American Library Association (ALA) documented 1,269 demands to censor books in 2022, the “highest number of attempted book bans since ALA began compiling data about censorship in libraries more than 20 years ago. The unparalleled number of reported book challenges in 2022 nearly doubles the 729 book challenges reported in 2021.”

Curious about the most-challenged books in 2022? The ALA has lists here. It doesn’t take long to realize that the majority of these books center the LGBTQ+ experience. School libraries have also fielded attacks on stories about LGBTQ+ families since the ALA has been tracking them.

I’ve created a long list of children’s books that affirm LGBTQ+ families and children. Buy them, add them to your home libraries, ask for them at your public libraries, leave them in Little Free Libraries, and spread love.

And check out the ALA’s Fight Censorship page if you’re interested in preparing yourself for book challenges in our schools and libraries.

I also invite you to read the full scope of the Parents’ Bill of Rights via CMS’s web page because book banning is just the beginning. The new law also mandates that school staff inform parents when their child uses a name or pronouns that are different than the ones that their parents declared for them, pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 115C-76.45(a).

And it withholds instruction on reproductive health for 5th grade and above until parents complete a consent form: This change will certainly reduce the reach of comprehensive reproductive health education.

Let’s stand up for intellectual freedom, for books, and for all kids and families.

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