Mat-Su book review committee concludes, some books return to shelves

Mat-Su book review committee concludes, some books return to shelves

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District office in Palmer, Alaska. May 30, 2024. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

A citizen The Board The committee tasked with reviewing challenged books for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District has completed its work. The committee reviewed 35 books last year and voted to permanently remove 19 from school libraries. A lawsuit over the removed books is ongoing and will go to trial next year.

The Mat-Su School Board has not taken action on all of the committee’s recommendations, but has voted to remove seven people so far.

In the spring of 2023, Mat-Su residents posed questions to school board members about whether certain library books violated obscenity laws. The 56 challenged books were removed from shelves last spring while the committee conducted its review.

District officials said the volume of book objections has overwhelmed the current review process, and the school board has selected members for a new committee to review the books. Before the citizens committee was formed, the review process required the person objecting to the book to meet with the school librarian and principal, and then have the book reviewed by a six-person committee while it remains in circulation.

At the June school board meeting, Principal Randy Trani said the district was working to streamline its accounting review process and there is no longer any need for a citizens’ committee.

“If someone, let’s say a parent, has a concern about a book, it’s not a process that takes months and months and months, it’s much more fluid. So we try to make sure we don’t end up in that situation again,” Trani said.

Under the board’s current policy regarding public complaints about instructional materials, complaints about books brought to the school board will be reviewed by the principal or the principal’s designee and may be appealed to the school board.

The committee last meeting Last month, members voted to remove three of the four books they reviewed, Ellen Hopkins’s Tricks, Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl, and the comic book version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The committee voted to keep Ellen Hopkins’ Perfect only in high schools.

The Northern Justice Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska sued the district last November on behalf of six students and two parents, claiming the books should have remained on the shelves while the review was conducted. Although 28 books have been returned to the shelves, eight plaintiffs are still seeking damages from the district, said Savannah Fletcher of the Northern Justice Project.

“First of all, there are still books that are completely banned. So they’ve been reviewed now, they’ve been banned, and we haven’t yet determined as a team which ones we agree with,” Fletcher said. “We’ve already said we don’t object to a few, but do we think we should ban them completely?”

Another 15 challenged books are no longer in the district’s collection, and the committee has not reviewed two books that will be left to the district to determine whether they should be removed. The school board is expected to vote on the committee’s final recommendations at its next meeting on Aug. 7.

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education issues for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at:[email protected]or 907-550-8487. Learn more about TimHere.