‘Enough is enough’: Lawsuit seeks to bring banned books back to the Mat-Su school district

‘Enough is enough’: Lawsuit seeks to bring banned books back to the Mat-Su school district
Published: Nov. 17, 2023 at 2:33 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Northern Justice Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska filed a lawsuit on Friday against the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District for the removal of 56 books from school libraries.

“As a parent to a biracial child, my child needs to be represented in books. I believe that book banning only further promotes intolerance, suppression of ideas or information, and creates seclusion making at-risk youth all the more at-risk. I am joining this lawsuit to send the School District the message: enough is enough,” plaintiff Dawn Adams said in a news release Friday morning.

The books range from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” to “The Bluest Eye,” which is written from the perspective of a young Black girl who is a victim of a sexually abusive father, as well as “Slaughterhouse Five,” which is an account of a man’s experiences during the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945, and his trip back to the days of Jesus Christ’s life on earth.

The suit was filed on behalf of eight plaintiffs, including six MSBSD parents on behalf of their children and two MSBSD students over the age of 18.

They argue that the book removal violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to free speech, press, and political expression.

The goal is to have the court reinstate the removed books to school libraries, and to rule that this kind of book banning is unconstitutional.

During previous school board meetings people opposed to the books say reading the material risks taking away innocence from children.

“I was exposed to books that were sexually explicit at a young age and my innocence was taken away — that’s what we’re talking about.” Mary Rivera testified back in September.

According to district superintendent Randy Trani, neither he nor the school board members have read all of the 56 books. Rather, he claims staff members reviewed the books.

The Matanuska-Susitna Education Association has previously released a statement condemning the board’s decision.

“This is a blatant effort to curtail critical thinking, stifle discussion, and deprive our students of the opportunity to share, as a class, the experience of studying some of the most classic American literature,” former association president Dianne K. Shibe said in 2020.

“All students have a constitutional right to inquire, to study, and to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their world. As the Supreme Court ruled over 40 years ago, ‘the school library is the principal locus of that freedom.’ Mat-Su School District needs to respect that right,” Northern Justice attorney Savannah Fletcher wrote in a news release.

A spokeswoman for the Mat-Su school district says officials have not been able to read the filing yet and have no response for now.

Clarification: This article has been updated to reflect that Shibe is the former association president. A quote from former board member Jeff Taylor related to a separate book controversy in 2020 has been removed.