Poll: 59% of Utahns oppose local school boards removing books from libraries, classrooms
Davis school board voted Tuesday to remove three novels from its its library collections: ‘The Lovely Bones,’ ‘Lawn Boy’ and ‘Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda’
Several people wanted to address the Davis School District Board of Education Tuesday night.
Although the board was scheduled to consider whether to remove three novels from its schools, the speakers were primarily concerned about the deteriorating condition of a community swimming pool used by three Layton-area high schools’ swimming teams.
The board’s consideration of the novels was part of its consent agenda, a kitchen-sink array of school district business routinely approved without discussion or comment, although Board President Liz Mumford asked board members if they wanted to consider any items separately but got no takers.
The board agreed to remove three novels from its library collections: “The Lovely Bones,” “Lawn Boy” and “Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda.”
The school board’s vote was the culmination of the school district’s process for book challenges but relatively few people attending the summer meeting in person or watching online were likely aware of the decisions, unless they had carefully reviewed the agenda or they had been following the challenge processes.
The board’s action was in sharp contrast to recent heated discussions at the Utah state Capitol as lawmakers critiqued schools’ handling of book challenges, with some of the harshest criticism directed toward the Davis School District amid a challenge to remove the King James version of the Bible from school libraries that had captured national attention.
A review committee determined it should be retained in junior high and high school libraries but removed from elementary schools. That decision was appealed and the school board ultimately decided to allow the Bible in school libraries K-12.
Some, like Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, bristled that an unelected, volunteer committee had that much authority.
“There’s only one elected school board and let the elected officials step up to the plate, make the decision and then bear the consequences of that decision,” said Bramble. The board’s handling of the matter would help ensure “one consistent standard that is the standard of the elected officials, taking the responsibility for their decision.”
A recent poll conducted for the Deseret News and Hinckley Institute of Politics found lukewarm support for local school boards deciding whether to remove certain books from libraries or classrooms.
Thirty-seven percent of the 801 Utahns surveyed by Dan Jones & Associates support local school boards removing books from libraries and classrooms while 59% were opposed. Three percent said they did not know. The poll was conducted June 26-July 4 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
Asked about the poll results, Bramble said given the manner in which the question was framed, “I’m surprised (the opposition) it was that low. I would expect it to be close to 70% or 80% because the poll question to me has vestiges of ‘Fahrenheit 451.’ ”
The internationally acclaimed novel by Ray Bradbury is set in a bleak, dystopian future, and tells the story of a government fireman whose job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book.
Mumford said the poll results, particularly the vastly different perspectives of some subgroups, “make the case that we should keep it as a local decision. It really shows that bright lines and things that might seem really obvious when you’re writing a policy or a law are more nuanced when we’re working in our communities with actual books and actual students working to refine their policies and practices.”
Subgroups that reported the highest levels of opposition were Democrats, with 73% responding that they were strongly opposed and 18% that said they were somewhat opposed.
Other subgroups that were opposed were Utahns ages 18-24; those with annual incomes below $49,999; those with high school educations or some college; and those who described themselves as somewhat or inactive members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The highest levels of support for elected school boards making the decision to remove books from libraries and classrooms were among Republicans; men; people with post-graduate studies or degrees; active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and those whose incomes exceeded $150,000.
Mumford said the Davis School District Board of Education is undertaking a one-year study of its policy and possible amendments. “I look at it more as a refinement than an overhaul,” she said.
“We’ve really tried to craft a policy that uses our local community as a way to vet the books that get challenged, but then we’re trying to fully comply with the bright line designation from the Legislature and the model policy from the state board. There’s also federal and judicial history at play. So there’s a lot of things for a local board to grapple with when they’re building a policy,” Mumford said.
One patron who addressed the school board Tuesday night said she has served on book review committees and she, and other parents, would like the board’s appeal process to be more transparent, such as providing specific information on how the committee of elected board members arrives at its recommendations to the full board.
“As someone who was on the committees and read books in their entirety, my concern is when a book is recommended by the (review) committee to be retained, and then the board votes without reading it in its entirety (that it) be removed, it feels like we need to take those committee’s recommendations more seriously when making decisions to remove the remove the books from the schools,” said Tara Cooper.
Bramble said increasingly, policymakers are wrestling with issues where morality intersects with free speech and expression.
“Part of the great public debate in the public square today is what should the standards be for morality in Utah. What should be the mores of our society?” he said.
With respect to the novels subject to the vote of the Davis school board, a review committee had determined that “The Lovely Bones” did not violate state statutes prohibiting instructional materials deemed pornographic or indecent so it should be retained in the district’s high school library collections.
The elected board also upheld two separate review committees’ decisions to remove the novels “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda” by Jean-Phillipe Stassen from libraries. The review committees determined those novels violated the state’s “bright line rule.”