Oklahoma Education’s Emerging Culture Wars: Banned Books

Oklahoma’s 1775 bill does not ban any specific book, but one of the effects of the law has been that teachers self-censor the books that students can access. Fear: A single complaint could put their career and district credential in jeopardy.

Last week, an English teacher at a Normandy high school resigned over a district policy related to House Bill 1775. Summer Boismier was removed from her class the first week of school after posting a code that , when read by a smartphone camera, directs students to the Brooklyn Public Library books are banned program.

On Wednesday, Oklahoma’s secretary of education and candidate for state superintendent Ryan Walters called for the state to revoke his teaching certificate – a consequence normally reserved for very serious allegations of child abuse, predatory behavior or other alleged crimes. The mother who complained told FOX25 she was concerned about students accessing “porn books,” particularly Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”

The book is one of many available through the Books Unbanned program, created in response to nationwide efforts to remove books from library shelves. The library is “fighting for the rights of teens nationwide to read what they love, discover themselves, and form their own opinions,” according to a statement posted on their webpage.

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” was the most contested book of 2021 according to the American Library Association. It’s an illustrated graphic novel on the author’s journey to identify as non-binary, which does not identify as either male or female.

Parents and GOP lawmakers in some communities objected to the book based on the inclusion of certain explicit images, including depictions of masturbation and certain sexual experiences. A recent attempt to label the book obscene in Virginia failed.

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by a Virginia Beach tattoo shop owner and former Republican candidate for Congress who wanted ‘Gender Queer: A Memoir’ and the fantasy romance novel ‘A Court of Mist and Fury” be deemed illegal for sale or loan in the state, according to an Associated Press story. He argued that depicting or illustrating sex acts in the books was inappropriate for children.

The judge ruled that the book did not meet the obscenity standard and said restricting the distribution of the books would violate the First Amendment.

“The First Amendment protects literary expression, even when some people find parts of the works difficult or objectionable. Everyone should be able to choose what they want to read,” said attorney Matt Callahan, of the ACLU of Virginia, who challenged the lawsuit on behalf of the booksellers.

Students: We want to hear from you. What do you think of these book bans? Are you concerned or not? I would love to hear from you via email or DM.

—Jennifer Palmer

Correction: In last week’s newsletter, teacher Summer Boismier’s name was misspelled. Oklahoma Watch regrets the error.

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