School Board restricts access to two library books

Lynn Kutter/Enterprise-Leader
Travis Warren, Farmington School Board president, discusses a challenge of two library books in the high school library. Warren has copies of both books on the table to his right. He said he read both books.
Lynn Kutter/Enterprise-Leader Travis Warren, Farmington School Board president, discusses a challenge of two library books in the high school library. Warren has copies of both books on the table to his right. He said he read both books.

FARMINGTON -- Farmington School Board unanimously voted March 27 to restrict two books in the high school library to students who are 17 years or older.

The board's decision was in response to an appeal by parent Atina King, who first brought her concerns about the books to the high school media specialist in December 2022.

King asked the School Board to remove books, "All Boys Aren't Blue," by George M. Johnson, and "Tricks," by Ellen Hopkins.

The board's decision to restrict the two books rejected a recommendation given by a five-member committee of high school staff members, which included Principal Jon Purifoy, the high school media specialist and three teachers.

The committee's recommendation was to retain the material in the library.

According to school officials last week, the books will be placed in a special area of the library and will have stickers to let students know the books are restricted by age.

The board adopted a procedure for challenging a book at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. It starts with the media specialist providing a copy of the policy to someone who has made a complaint.

The policy shows a challenge first goes to the school principal for discussion. If the person still is not satisfied, an assistant superintendent tries to resolve the issue.

If the individual still is not satisfied, the person can complete a request for reconsideration form to be returned to the school district. Upon receiving this form, the school principal appoints a committee to reconsider the materials.

The individual can accept the committee's findings or appeal this decision to the school board.

King appealed the committee's decision to the board. In considering the appeal, the board had three options, according to the school policy. It could decide to retain the books, limit the access or remove the books from the school.

King's request for "All Boys Aren't Blue" states that she did not see a purpose for including the book in the library and that it had sexually explicit materials that should not be used to teach minors. King said her objections to the book included profanity, sexual nudity, sexual assault, derogatory racial terms, sexual activities with minors and alternate gender ideologies.

King's objections to "Tricks" were that the book had explicit sexual encounters, sexual violence including child trafficking, molestation and rape and glamoratization of minor's drug and alcohol abuse.

All five board members made comments when considering King's request to remove the books. Each book was discussed separately and then voted upon separately. According to information provided to the board, "All Boys Aren't Blue" had not been checked out from the library and "Tricks" had been checked out 27 times, most recently in 2019.

Board president Travis Warren said he read both books and he brought copies to the meeting that he had checked out from public libraries.

Warren said it was hard for him to identify with "All Boys Aren't Blue" because he is not Black nor homosexual.

"But I know there are students in our district who identify with this and that's OK, too," Warren said.

Warren said he preferred the option for some limited access to the book.

Board member Mark Vaughn said he thought the board should look at it from a holistic viewpoint, adding he believes the school has an obligation to make sure there are different resources for students, regardless of someone's religous beliefs or morals and ethics.

Board member Amy Hill agreed with Warren about limiting the access to the book, saying she realizes students are curious but at the same time the book was not something she would want her own children to read.

"Me reading it, I didn't want to read it, to be honest with you," Hill said.

Board member Lori Blew said she did not want to remove the book from the library but would go along with offering an age restriction.

Board member Josh Petree thanked King for bringing awareness about the books.

"It was a little alarming to me," Petree said.

The board discussed how to define a limited availability, whether a student would have to get parental permission to check it out or use an age limit, and agreed upon limiting the book to students 17 or over.

As they discussed the book "Tricks," all board members said they were agreed with the same limitation, 17 years or older, for checking out the book from the high school library.

After the meeting, King said she was happy the board voted to restrict the books, though she said she preferred the board would have required parental consent to check out the books until age 18. Children 17 and under are still considered minors and under their parents' responsibility, she said.

King said she learned about the books through media sources and friends and that prompted her to do some research on them. She said she read all of "Tricks" but did not finish "All Boys Aren't Blue."

King said she does not object to the books in a public library, though she personally disagrees with it.

She also said she is not trying to ban books in school libraries.

"I don't want to ban anything," King said, "I just want to make sure that what we have in the school is appropriate for the ages of the children in that school."

Warren, after the meeting, said deciding about the books was a "real struggle" for him.

"There probably are marginalized kids who need this," Warren said, but added he also believes students should have a level of maturity before having access to it.

The high school committee that reviewed King's complaints about the books used a rubric when studying the material, which looked at the overall purpose of each book, authenticity, appropriateness and content.

The committee, in its report, said "All Boys Aren't Blue," an autobiography, provides an opportunity for a marginalized group of students to be seen and heard within its pages.

The committee unanimously voted to recommend retaining the book because it gives Farmington High students a choice to read the material and find "comfort in not being alone in their life experiences," according to the committee report. The book also helps the library "maintain an appropriate level of diversity for sexual orientation and race while providing an authentic view of life."

The committee, in its report on "Tricks," said the book is a novel-in-verse and is a cautionary tale about the ever-growing danger of human trafficking as well as the danger young adults can find themselves in due to adult manipulation.

In recommending to retain "Tricks," the committee said that, given statistics of human trafficking and drug abuse, the book would "help reach students in compromising situations that are unsure of where they can turn for help."

According to the district's policy on challenging books, a decision by the school board is final.