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'I think it makes it difficult': St. Louis community reacts as some schools remove books under new state law

The Missouri law makes it a class-A misdemeanor if any teacher or librarian provides visually "explicit" sexual material to a student.

ST. LOUIS — This week, some Missouri school districts began pulling certain books from shelves. 

The new Missouri law makes it a class-A misdemeanor if any teacher or librarian provides visually "explicit" sexual material to a student.

The Rockwood School District already posted a list of 22 books now off their library shelves as of Sunday Aug. 28, when the law went into effect. 

While some schools are tossing certain books, others are staying put.

Joe Kohlburn, who is against this portion of the law, said it's already thrown a wrench into the school year.

"I mean, this is honestly just a huge waste of everybody's time. Like, it's just, it's a waste of time, resources, tax dollars," he said.

As the head of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Missouri Library Association, Kohlburn understands the role of a librarian well, and blocking access to reading isn't part of that.

"That's not what librarians do. We're trying to help people get information, we're not trying to hide information from students," he said.

According to Kohlburn, the amendment that was added to Senate Bill 775, is doing just that. 

While some St. Louis area schools already removed certain books that fall under the law, he said, local police departments and prosecutors said they won't arrest or charge a librarian or teacher for breaking the law.

"The fact that we haven't seen any of these prosecutions, and really I hope we don't, I hope that stays that way, it suggests to me that this is just an intimidation thing," Kohlburn said.

Paul Ziegler, with Education Plus, said this has been a hot topic with school districts he works with, but that's not anything new. He said libraries weed out books yearly.

"This year, obviously, with the new law, there is an added scrutiny really looking at those graphic novels, and in some of those, that may have more illustrations than others," he said.

Ziegler believes this does put districts in a tough spot, though.

"I think it makes it difficult, always interpreting what was an intention of a law, so as we navigate that, yeah, there'll be concerns around lawsuits or making sure we're doing it correctly," he said.

While Ziegler said most educators are rule followers by nature, libraries are about meeting kids' needs and interests.

"We need to make sure that we keep those catalogs relevant to our kids and to our community," he said.

All of the school districts 5 On Your Side reached out to declined interviews, but shared statements. 

The Rockwood School District shared this statement:

The Rockwood School District closely follows any changes in state and federal legislation to ensure compliance with all applicable statutes. Missouri Senate Bill 775 (SB 775) went into effect Aug. 28 and establishes guidelines related to providing "explicit sexual material" to a student.

Rockwood librarians and administrators in our curriculum department carefully reviewed our collections in light of the new legislation and consulted with our legal team to identify books with images that may meet the definition of “explicit sexual material” under Section 573.550, RSMo. Those books have been removed from circulation, and the list has been posted on the district website to ensure transparency with all stakeholders.

Rockwood’s compliance with the state statute does not change our vision to provide a wide range of reading materials to meet the needs of all students and our goal of universal equity, opportunity and access outlined in our strategic plan, The Way Forward. Our libraries hold more than 450,000 titles for students to choose from in grades K-12, and we will continue to ensure that all students are represented in our library collections.

The Parkway School District banned five books:

  • "Handmaid's Tale" (graphic novel version) by Margaret Atwood
  • "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel
  • "Are You My Mother" by Alison Bechdel 
  • "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe
  • "Blankets" by Craig Thompson 

The Parkway School District, also, shared this statement:

In order to make sure students cannot access these materials through our partnership with St. Louis County Library, we have also removed access in the SORA app to all materials in the "general adult" category since we cannot restrict access to individual books in that system. Students can still access those materials in the public library, just not through our system.

Maplewood Richmond Heights School District has not banned any books and shared this statement from Superintendent, Dr. Bonita Jamison: 

We don’t censor anything at this point. We are not changing what we do for kids because we know what they need. They are going out into a diverse society.

A spokesperson for the St. Louis Public Schools, also said, they have not removed any books and there has been no discussion about removing any.

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