Crowd turns out to beat back book banners
Challenges on hold while board revisits policy
An overflow crowd attended Monday night’s school board meeting at Dakota Prairie Elementary School in Brookings, overwhelmingly to urge the board not to capitulate to a national right-wing effort to ban books in public schools.
More than 30 people signed up and spoke during the public comment period, which was moved to the end of the agenda to accommodate the crowd. The vast majority thanked the board for their hard work and told them not to ban any books from Brookings school libraries.
“We heard a lot of good things, a lot of really similar commentary, a lot of people saying no to the banning of the books, and it was just good to see all that engagement,” School Board President Keli Books said after the meeting.
During the business portion of the meeting, board members updated the public on the state of challenges to books in Brookings school libraries.
Those challenges, apparently organized on website titled “Save Brookings,” are part of a nationwide effort funded by far-right groups to censor school libraries — often targeting books with LGBTQ+ and racial themes — which has even led to some conservative states leaving the American Library Association, according to the Associated Press.
Approximately a dozen challenges were made here in Brookings, all of which were denied, board members said during the meeting.
Eleven are in an appeal process.
At that point, the school board decided to expedite the process of revising its challenge policy, which was last addressed in 2013.
New Superintendent Summer Schultz said during the meeting that she would handle all of the appeals to allow the librarians to return to their normal work and that no new challenges would be entertained until the board approves a new policy.
Perhaps most salient, board member Teresa Binkley noted during the meeting that any parent with a child enrolled in Brookings schools can fill out a form at their child’s school library and list any book titles they wish to prevent their child from checking out.
The school district has zero such requests on file.
A wide cross-section of the community turned out to urge the board not to remove any books, including clergy, former teachers and professors, local business owners, high school students and activists.
“I agreed with a lot of what was said,” Books said. “And I would like to say, we have really smart, talented, educated people on the board, and they are going to take a good look at the 2013 policy, they’ll check with lawyers, with the associated school board, with all of those folks, but I don’t see us varying too much from where we are.”
Before the meeting, which filled the board’s usual meeting room and had residents watching from the cafeteria outside, Schultz sent a letter to parents informing them that a new challenge policy would not be available at the meeting.
“Although considerable time has been given, the district is unprepared to present a first draft for public viewing at tonight’s Board of Education meeting.
“I assure you we are providing diligence to this issue, but with all policies, we want to ensure the first draft mirrors our intentions. This issue can produce strong opinions, and I ask that you offer patience as we work through the policy review process.
“It’s important to clarify that this process was not initiated to ban books. Instead, we are working to ensure that our policies are appropriate for the current educational climate and our libraries continue to be a place where students have voluntary access to a diverse range of literature and are a foundation of knowledge, understanding, and cultural enrichment,” Schultz wrote.
The meeting also attracted the attention of the South Dakota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which wrote board member Wes Tschetter to remind him of the First Amendment concerns involved and urge the board not to allow any specific parent’s choices to interfere with the rights of other students.
“For so many of us, books are portals to other parts of the world, planets, universes and realms, real or imaginary. For students who feel different, lonely, or unloved, the availability of books that center stories of non-dominant communities offer a sound reassurance that they are not alone in this world. School libraries provide a vital marketplace of ideas and concepts and foster an environment where all students can feel they belong. We urge the Brookings School Board to keep the current policy with respect to the selection and use of library materials. Parents or guardians of a few children should not be allowed to limit the right of others,” Advocacy Manager Samantha Chapman wrote.
Even those who had previously agitated against certain books — the Save Bookings site links to such well worn classics as Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” among hundreds of others — struck a more conciliatory tone.
Rick Weible spoke to the gathering and said he was a member of Save Brookings as he declared “Mission accomplished,” and went on to say that his group was merely trying to “raise awareness.”
Linehan is the Register’s managing editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]