The Willard school board voted not to fully remove a book from libraries at the middle and high schools, despite a parent’s appeal.
The 2020 book “How It All Blew Up” by Arvin Ahmadi will remain in both buildings but students will have to secure parental permission to check it out.
Parent Lizzie Nothum originally challenged the book in mid-September, saying it included curse words, innuendo and “very graphic sexual scenes.”
Committees formed to review the book ruled it should stay on the shelves at the high school but be restricted at the middle school. Nothum appealed the decisions to the board, which has the final say.
In split votes Thursday, the board upheld the committee’s decision at the middle school but partially overturned it at the high school, where access will now be restricted.
Motions to remove the book or allow it to remain on the high school shelves without restriction failed.
Board members Ron Crighton, Amanda Gooch, Devon Jarvis, and Matthew Young voted to keep the book restricted at the middle school. Kip Baker, Jason Dixon and David Menditto voted against. The board voted 6-1, with Menditto opposed, to restrict the book at the high school.
According to the district, the book has been checked out six times at the middle school and nine times at the high school since the start of the 2022-23 year.
Crighton, first elected in 2005, asked if the number of checkouts increased after the initial challenge. The district did not have that information.
“The children, if you say don’t do something, they’re going to do it,” Crighton said.
Under district policy, a committee is formed to review any book that is challenged. Two challenges were filed, both by Nothum, earlier this year.
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A committee decided to remove “Oryx and Crake,” a 2003 book by Margaret Atwood, from the high school library. Committee decisions for “How It All Blew Up” were the first appealed to the board, according to Superintendent Eric Wilken.
Board members explain their votes on book restriction
Multiple board members said they’d spent a lot of time reviewing the book and listening to parents before deciding how to vote.
“I don’t believe that I am allowed to let my personal beliefs affect my decisions or my votes,” Young said. “I have to think about the greater good, the public, not just one sector of the public.”
Young, the vice president, said during the packed meeting that he was encouraged by how involved parents were in the issue. “That is the most important thing right now with the way our world is.”
In recent meetings, parents have spoken in favor of restricting or removing books. At the Thursday meeting, two parents and a middle school student advocated for keeping books on shelves.
“Librarians can unlock an entire world for our children but parents decide how far to open the door,” said Janine Clark-Barry. “All we need to do is invest the time in our children and keep an open line of communication with our schools.”
As the parent of a voracious reader, Clark-Barry said she worked closely with the school librarian to pick out books that satisfied her child’s interests but were appropriate. She rejected some titles but allowed access to others.
“Leave the parenting to parents,” she said.
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Jeremy Hayes, a Willard parent and alum, asked the school board not to act as the “morality police” and to uphold the rights of all parents by keeping books on the shelves.
“My faith does not require me to force my beliefs on others,” he said. “In fact, my faith requires me to stand up for the rights of all.”
Hayes, who is married to a school librarian, said the district gives parents the ability to restrict what their children check out of the library.
“There is a longstanding practice in Willard that any parent can call or email or write or come in and speak to the librarians to restrict any book for their child that they want,” he said. “With this practice in place to ensure parents’ rights, I do not understand why these books are being challenged.”
As a board member and a parent, Jarvis said he is relieved the district has different options in place for parents who object to certain books.
“I also value the ability to parent. I value the process we go through,” Jarvis said. “Ultimately knowing that I can go to the library and restrict all of the books that I want for my kids allows me to parent.”
Jarvis, first elected in 2013, said in his years on the board, this is the topic he has lost the most sleep over.
“This isn’t a decision taken lightly or even an endorsement or a non-endorsement of a book,” Jarvis said prior to his votes. “This is much bigger than that.”
Menditto, elected in April, said while “we all want to parent,” but there are a lot of single moms and dads who are working while trying to raise their children.
“We live in a very confusing time right now. A lot of stuff going on in this world and those parents may not have the time or ability or even know to call and restrict books,” Menditto said.
He said the community can use its values to “guide our kids in a certain direction.”
Gooch, elected last year, since students are exposed to a lot through technology. She said by restricting access to the books, it may spur parents and students to talk more about what they are reading.
“Having the ability to restrict something I think, as a parent, is a positive thing,” she said. “But only if I’m able to have a conversation with my child about why it’s restricted. To me, the conversation about it is worth more than whether it can be restricted or not be restricted.”
Claudette Riley covers education at the News-Leader. Email tips and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.