ST. LOUIS — Books across the state of Missouri are getting removed from shelves, as schools face potential criminal prosecution due to a new state law.
It would be a class "A" misdemeanor if anyone provides visually "explicit" sexual material to a student at private or public schools.
The images can come from books, magazines, videos or online content and librarians or staff members could be impacted.
It does, though, have exceptions for works of art, works of anthropological significance or materials used in science courses.
As the owner of Left Bank Books, Kris Kleindienst wants children to have access to literature freedom.
"What they have in the library is good material, well written, vetted material that can enrich their lives," she shares.
Kleindienst is now worried about an amendment to Senate Bill 775, which will soon become law on Aug. 28.
She believes this is a way to gloss over what's really happening.
"They really don't want LGBTQIA material in their libraries and they don't want voices of Black authors," Kleindienst said.
The book store owner is also concerned about who will decide what's "explicit."
"This is a slippery slope. Who's deciding this? It's already causing confusion in libraries," Kleindienst shared.
She questions who will make the final verdict on certain materials when this new law kicks in.
Republican Senator Rick Brattin created this amendment and said it's going to be an all hands on deck approach when it comes to the decision making.
"Every single person in the school district is potentially liable if they're subjecting kids to this stuff. It will be school boards, it'll be teachers, it'll be everyone having to comb through to make sure that they're not presenting this to kids," Brattin explained.
Brattin said these books have been a problem and called some of the novels extremely graphic.
"I mean these novels have graphic, pornographic material of sex acts and that's what this language really dives into. We're seeing now school districts actually starting to remove these books we brought up," Brattin said.
Some of those books that are alarming to him are:
- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
- Dead End by Jason Myers
- Gender Queer: A Memoir
Brattin said they tried to go after the literary aspect, but they finally agreed on the visual aspects.
"At least that's a step in the right direction," Brattin said.
5 On Your Side asked Brattin if certain materials weren't pulled, would they be liable?
"If you see drugs laying around and kids got their hands on it, you'd be held liable, correct? Well it's kind of the same sort of scenario when you're literally destroying kids' innocence with this stuff, I mean is that graphic and hardcore," he said.
However, Joe Kohlburn, the Chair of the Intellectual Freedom Committee for the Missouri Library Association, believes this law is troublesome.
"We try to advocate to protect rights to access information. I think it's important for libraries and librarians to take a stand," Kohlburn said. "Things that are depicting people's life experiences, it's really problematic if you remove those things from a school library. You're robbing the people to see their experiences reflected."
Kohlburn said there is tension within districts.
"There’s some tension there because you have the administrative person trying to protect the school and then you have a school librarian with professional ethics. Every school librarian I know won’t be doing that probably," Kohlburn told 5 On Your Side.
Kohlburn and Kleindienst said libraries should be a place where kids' minds have intellectual liberties.
Brattin agrees to an extent.
"We want kids to read books that allow them different perspectives, but at the same time protecting their innocence and we have a moral obligation to do that," Brattin said.
The Missouri Association of School Librarians shared guidance for school librarians and calls this new law concerning on many levels.
One of the concerns is that many school districts are using Senate Bill 775 as a basis for pre-emptively removing books prior to book challenges based on the language included in the legislation.
The organization encourages librarians to get familiar with the language in the amendment to make the right decisions.
It will also present a session at the annual Missouri School Board Association’s (MSBA) conference in November on the topic of Navigating Book Challenges.
They want to educate and support Boards of Education on the policies and procedures surrounding challenges.
The ACLU of Missouri also shared this statement:
Across the nation, including in Missouri, students’ and educators’ First Amendment rights are under assault by extreme, organized efforts to silence viewpoints and perspectives of marginalized communities by advocating for the removal of books featuring non-white and LGBTQ+ authors and protagonists. These organizations are mistakenly pointing to the recently passed SB 775 to ramp up the number of book challenges and to intimidate librarians into censorship, even going so far as providing specific guidance for challenging books and filing police reports.
However, school districts must refrain from pre-emptively removing school library materials on the basis of SB 775. The new statute defines “explicit sexual material” narrowly and includes broad exceptions that require materials to be considered as a whole. Furthermore, it does not criminalize materials that are currently in school libraries, as school districts already follow nationally well-established standards for selecting appropriate materials.
The ACLU of Missouri supports librarians, educators, and students and we will continue to explore every avenue to fight these unjustified book bans and attempts to restrict speech.
Kleindienst also launched the Literacy and Justice Project in the spring of 2022 and plans to keep it going.