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'The right side of history': North Carolina school districts face book challenges

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Photos courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Across the United States, there were 695 attempts in schools and academic library settings to censor library materials and services on 1,915 titles from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 of this year, according to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

The number for unique titles challenged has increased by 20 percent from the same reporting period in 2022, the year with the highest number of book challenges since ALA began compiling this data more than 20 years ago. 

According to the ALA, most challenged books were written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Banned Books Week began in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in libraries, bookstores and schools. This year's Banned Books Week, 41 years later, was celebrated Oct. 1-7 with the theme “Let Freedom Read!”

On Sept. 26, the Chapel Hill Public Library kicked off its month-long Right to Read campaign. The campaign encourages community members to write postcards to politicians, library staff members, authors of banned books and readers in hopes of bringing attention to the subjects in the banned books. 

But, some community members in N.C. counties have had to deal with book challenges firsthand. In Catawba County Schools, book challenges are common. 

In March 2022, Michelle Teague, a member of the county’s board of education, filed requests to have 25 library books removed.

Recently, the board voted 4-3 to restrict the novel "Monday’s Not Coming" by Tiffany D. Jackson to students who are 18 or older after a meeting on Sept. 18. The book was restricted because of its references to sex and profanity.

“I'm a student of history,” Jeff Taylor, a Catawba County Schools Board of Education member who has often voted against book restrictions, said. “I think anytime you're on the side of banning or restricting access to reading materials, you're not on the right side of history.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools recently faced backlash when it prohibited Banned Books Week and its associated events throughout the 181 schools in Mecklenburg County. Hours after the original memo was sent to principals, CMS rescinded its statement and said it would not be taking a position on Banned Books Week as it is a site-based decision, according to reporting by WFAE.

After the passage of Senate Bill 49 — called the Parents' Bill of Rights — some North Carolina school districts have had to adjust their policies when it comes to discussion around gender and sexuality. The bill became law in August after the N.C. General Assembly overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto.

S.B. 49 contains 12 pages of requirements for public schools, such as creating new processes for parents to review and challenge textbooks and requiring educators to notify parents if their child wants to use a different name or pronouns.

“The Parents' Bill of Rights is restricting that network,” N.C. Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Caswell, Orange, Person) said. “It's taking away the teacher’s ability to care for children and use the professional resources at their disposal, including books, to teach children about complicated topics, which kids are curious about and that they need good answers for.”

Meyer said local leaders and school districts are reviewing their policies to ensure they have a clear approach for how book-related challenges will be addressed. 

“The decisions are going to come down to local leaders, and I certainly hope that those local leaders don't succumb to scare tactics and decide to restrict opportunities for education just because they're in a hostile environment,” he said. “If you're someone who has chosen to stand up for children, then this is a time that you truly need to stand up.”

Sharon Kolling, a librarian at Guy B. Phillips Middle School in Chapel Hill, said that the Parents' Bill of Rights hasn't changed her duty to advocate for a variety of titles in her school's library.

“I know that my number one responsibility is to the students and making sure that the students have a diverse array of books available to them in terms of genre, format, length and difficulty,” Kolling said. “We need to see ourselves in literature."

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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