Utah school district sued after censorship in elementary school

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The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit against the Davis School District after elementary schools in the district were instructed to remove a book portraying same-sex parents from the open shelves.

Windridge Elementary School had the book “In Our Mothers’ House” by children’s author Patricia Polacco in the easy reading section of its library. According to ACLU’s press release, “After a group of parents complained that the book ‘normalizes a lifestyle we don’t agree with,’ the school district instructed librarians to place the book behind the library counter and to lend it only with written permission from a parent.”

Just as parents were the force behind the removal of the book, a parent is behind the lawsuit as well. The suit was filed by ACLU on behalf of a mother, Tina Weber, whose children attend a school in Davis School District, where the book was restricted.

“I was shocked when I heard that a handful of parents had made a decision about whether everyone else’s kids could have access to this book,” Weber said. “Our job as parents is to make sure we teach our children about our values. We can do that without imposing our personal views on the rest of the school community.”

According to ACLU’s press release, Davis School District bases their decision to restrict the book on Utah’s Code for sex education. This code states, “The materials adopted by a local school board … shall be based upon recommendations of the school district’s Curriculum Materials Review Committee that comply with state law and state board rules emphasizing abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage, and prohibiting instruction in: (II) the advocacy of homosexuality.”

The ACLU argues against this defense, stating, “Library books are not instructional materials under the statute, and … including library books depicting families with same-sex parents does not constitute endorsement or ‘advocacy of homosexuality.'”

Joshua Block is a staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project, and he believes removing books like this from schools won’t do anything to change the reality that children with same-sex parents attend schools all over the country, Davis County included.

“Children come from all types of families,” he said. “Regardless of the race, sex or martial status of a child’s parents, they are part of the school community, and their families should not be hidden away as something shameful.”

The author of the book, Patricia Polacco, has written several other children’s books that focus on families with different backgrounds and cultures to teach children to celebrate difference. These books are present in Davis School District libraries.

Polacco posted a recent interview on her website about “In Our Mothers’ House” and the controversy in Davis County.

“The challenge that I heard about first was about a mother from Utah who had a problem with her kindergartner checking the book out of the library,” Polacco said. “Now I’ve got to tell you, ‘In Our Mothers’ House’ is not for a kindergartner, and I think the mother had every right to do that. Not because of the content, but because of the level of the words used in here. … As parents, we all have the right to protect our children against something we feel is going to harm them. What I did take exception to was that this mother decided to take it upon herself to see that your child couldn’t read the book either. That’s where I think our first amendment rights are getting trounced.”

Polacco believes the restriction of books in general is part of a bigger problem, one which could have disastrous consequences countries have seen in the past and consequences Americans have only read about in history books.

“The first amendment is something that is very serious,” Polacco said. “The framers of our Constitution wrote it for a specific reason, and that is for the freedom of our speech and the freedom to express ourselves. My worry is that if this is challenged, not this book specifically, but just generally, authors soon will be told what they can write about and what they can’t. My family came from Russia, and that’s what happened there, and this happened in Nazi Germany, and that’s where it all began. This is very serious.”

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