Before banning books, Idaho school board must go through process

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Books Rediscovered in Boise set up an exhibit to include books that the Nampa School Board voted to remove from shelves in district libraries.

Books Rediscovered in Boise set up an exhibit to include books that the Nampa School Board voted to remove from shelves in district libraries.

Nampa School Board members had to acknowledge they could be in legal hot water when they decided last month, by split vote, to remove 23 books from library shelves, including major literary works like “The Blueest Eye”, “The Kite Runner”. and “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

On Monday evening, board members revisited the matter and at least acknowledged that they could not make the decision to ban the books indiscriminately.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 in Board of Education v. Pico that a school board cannot remove books from its shelves simply because board members disagree with the contents of a book. But it was a plurality decision and did not settle the issue of whether deleting books is a violation of the First Amendment. The court’s decision still left open a school board’s discretion to remove books from shelves. The judges acknowledged that books that are “pervasively vulgar” or “without any educational adequacy” could be removed.

“But those are pretty vague principles,” Joe Borton, a Meridian City Council member and experienced attorney and policy-writer on the matter, said in a phone interview. “That’s why the process is so important.”

Nampa School Board Members did not follow their process when they banned the books last month. In fact, they preceded their own process.

Committees made up of librarians, staff and parents were reviewing each of the “disputed” books and were making recommendations to the board, but the committees were unable to complete their work before the council do so. his decision, according to a previous article in the Idaho Statesman.

“A lot of time and work has gone into reading these books, analyzing them and checking them for relevance,” Skyview High librarian Ann Christensen told board members Monday. “We felt like we were wasting time.

A few board members said they wanted a clearer process.

Rather, it seems they want a different process that will produce the result they want: banning a book just because it may contain content they don’t like.

But it doesn’t work like that.

“The guiding legal principle is that a local school board may not remove books from the shelves of the school library merely because it dislikes the ideas contained in those books and seeks by their removal” to prescribe what shall be accepted in matters of politics, nationalism, religion or other matters. of opinion,” according to Borton, citing the Pico decision.

Borton said there is no clear, clear line drawn in the courts as to when something can be taken off the shelves and when it veers into government censorship.

School board members in the Pico case called their banned books, including works by Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Wright, ‘un-American, anti-Christian, anti-Sem[i]tic, and just plain dirty.

An objective assessment process will neutralize this type of arbitrary standard.

“What’s so important is establishing an objectively fair process, so that you don’t invent rules in the midst of controversy,” Borton said. “The idea is to have the rules of the road, how we’re going to address those concerns consistently, regardless of who makes the complaint or what the issue is.”

Halting that process and closing the debate last month, Nampa school board members were crafting rules amid controversy over the 23-book ban.

As Christensen pointed out at the Nampa school board meeting Monday night, “I don’t know what your parameters are. I don’t want to… (buy) books that are going to be taken away.

Christensen said she’s been hesitant to buy books for fear that board members will ban them later, so it’s clear the board’s action is already having a chilling effect.

“You could go through the whole process and you could end up with the same result,” Borton said. “But you might not. But if you want to have some integrity in the decision-making process, you can’t skip the steps. And if someone is certain of a particular outcome, then let the process take its course. Have an open mind. It is your obligation.

In this case, it is clear that the three members of the Nampa school board who voted to ban the books did not fulfill their obligation.

This story was originally published June 8, 2022 04:00.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this column misidentified the school where Ann Christensen is a librarian. She’s at Skyview High School.

Corrected June 9, 2022

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Scott McIntosh is the Opinion Editor of the Idaho Statesman. A graduate of Syracuse University, he joined the Statesman in August 2019. He was previously editor of the Idaho Press and the Argus Observer and was owner and editor of the Kuna Melba News. He has been honored for his editorials and columns as well as his reporting on education, business, and local government by the Idaho Press Club and the National Newspaper Association. Sign up for his weekly newsletter, The Idaho Way.
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