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ACLU of Missouri to file suit against Wentzville School District over book ban

"We're not making any secret that they're violating the First Amendment and they should know what will happen. This is a notice that they are going to be sued."

WENTZVILLE, Mo. — The Wentzville School District is about to get hit with a lawsuit after banning Toni Morrison's 'The Bluest Eye' in January.

The ACLU of Missouri is ready to take action.

"We're not making any secret that they're violating the First Amendment and they should know what will happen," Tony Rothert, Director of Integrated Advocacy, said. "This is a notice that they are going to be sued."

A Preservation Demand Letter from the ACLU of Missouri was sent to the Wentzville School District. 

RELATED: After 'The Bluest Eye' banned by Wentzville schools, nonprofit accepting donations to give copies away

The letter's formal request is to protect and preserve all electronic and other discoverable items concerning the review and removal of any book or other written material from any school library.

This would be for the upcoming legal case.

"A number of books have been removed from the library shelves in Wentzville. There have been nine books that we know of that have been removed," Rothert said. 

The latest is Toni Morrison's 1970 novel, "The Bluest Eye".

In a January school board meeting, the board voted to ban the piece of literature from school libraries.

Concerned parents say it's not suitable for children and contains "graphic sexual violence."

Rothert adds, "It's probably not a coincidence that most of the books banned are Black authors or authors, who are members of the LGBTQ community."

Rothert shares, the ACLU's goal is to now get the books back on shelves.

It's a move the Missouri Library Association hopes for, as well.

Joe Kohlburn is the Missouri Library Association's Current Chair of Intellectual Freedom Committee also sent its own letter to Wentzville.

"We champion people's rights to be curious and to just follow their own line of inquiry. The letter was just challenging them to reconsider that ban and the need to represent a great multitude of sort of diverse voices in a library collection and how that should really be left with librarians. We were asking them to reconsider that ban," Kohlburn adds. 

The current and past chair members of the Association's Intellectual Freedom's Committee say this book gives representation and a chance to share diverse voices.

Past chair Tiffany Mautino says, "Toni Morrison wrote the book that she wanted to read that she couldn't find. What message are we reinforcing by constantly trying to challenge and ban these books?"

Mautino said banning these books is a slippery slope and she asked "where does it end?"

What's next?

Wentzville School District released this statement in reaction to the ACLU's letter: 

I can confirm the district received a letter from the ACLU. The district continues to act in compliance with the Board vote regarding The Bluest Eye.

We will not be commenting further on any pending litigation.

As always, the Wentzville School District continues to prioritize high-quality education for its students.

Meanwhile, the ACLU said it will send over the lawsuit soon. 

Rothert said he believes the agency has a good chance of winning the case.

"We will likely ask for an injunction to be entered at the beginning of the case, given the harm to the public and to the students caused by banning books, as well as the strong likelihood that we will succeed in the case," Rothert adds. "In cases where there's harm to constitutional rights and a high likelihood of success courts can give relief right away and we anticipate asking for that, in this case."

This would mean, banned books back on shelves.

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