Someone wants the Bible removed from libraries in the Davis School District.

On Dec. 11, 2022, a challenge was filed with district officials asking that the Bible be pulled from the shelves of the district’s schools. 

The school district doesn’t reveal who challenges books, nor does it ask why.

Asked if it was a serious attempt to have the Bible removed from school libraries or if it was a political statement, Christopher Williams, Davis School District’s director of communication, said they treat all challenges the same.

“The district doesn’t judge one challenge versus another,” he said in an email response. “We view it as part of the work we do.”

A random check of school districts revealed that they, too, have an array of religious texts in their school libraries such as the Bible, Quran, Torah, the Book of Mormon and the Hindu text Bhagavad Gita, but none reported they had been challenged.

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said the district received an inquiry about religious texts in its schools but the person did not file a formal request that the district review them.

Since the passage of Utah’s “sensitive materials” law in 2022, Utah school districts such as Alpine, Granite and Davis have received dozens of other requests for book reviews, some spurred by parents rights organizations such as Utah Parents United and others from concerned individuals.

HB374, sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, defines “sensitive material” as instructional materials that are pornographic or indecent, colloquially referred to as the “bright line” rule in state code. 

Ivory said the challenge of the Bible is “a backhanded slap to parents that are simply trying to keep a healthy learning environment for all students in the schools. I have every confidence that no school district is going to consider the Bible as violating 76-10-1227,” which addresses descriptions and depictions of illicit sex or sexual immorality.

Following the legislative session, school districts developed policies to implement the law. They also empaneled review committees, created guidelines for the committee’s work and conducted trainings.

Alpine School District Superintendent Shane Farnsworth told lawmakers last fall that the school district had reviewed some 50 titles, convening 25 committees of patrons and employees to do the work. Community members outnumbered school staff on the review panels, he said.

Library at Tooele High School on Monday, March 20, 2023. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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Granite School District’s process, meanwhile, allows community members, parents or even district employees to request reviews.

Last summer, school librarians were paid an hourly rate to review some 80 titles to ensure they met the criteria for original selection, said Horsley.

They read specific books and then met in groups of three to vote.

“Sometimes those were removed. Sometimes they were restricted to certain age groups or sometimes they were affirmed to remain on the shelf in the current location which they were located,” he said.

The school district also has a parent committee that conducts book reviews aside from the librarians’ reviews, he said.

Williams said Davis District has formed 15 separate book review committees to handle the increasing numbers of challenges. Those serving on the committees do so in their spare time, meeting, reviewing challenges and then reading books or passages that are at issue. It is a significant commitment that isn’t confined to the Davis District.

In Canyons District, they didn’t have a record of any formal challenges until 2022, according to Communications Director Jeff Haney. For reference, Williams said Davis District has had 81 books challenged this year alone.

In Canyons, they’ve only had one official challenge, but they’ve had 43 requests to review books to determine if they violate the new state law aimed at restricting “sensitive material” in school libraries, Haney said.

In Canyons, the book “The Haters” by Jesse Andrews was challenged under the new policy, and a committee voted to retain the book. 

“That decision is currently under appeal,” Haney said. 

Ivory said many school districts and schools have dutifully addressed requests for reviews of library and instructional materials.

“There are a lot of materials that have been taken out and they are de-sexualizing schools and classrooms. They’re taking it seriously and I applaud them. That’s great to see,” he said.

The question remains how instructional or library materials that include descriptions or depictions of illicit sex or sexual immorality made their way into schools in the first place, he said.

Who is challenging library books?

Finding out who challenges a book can be difficult depending on the district. Davis doesn’t reveal the identity of challengers, but some districts, like Canyons, do. In most cases, the books remain on the shelves until a review is complete, which averages 60 days in most districts.

Williams said because the 60 days are work days, the challenge to the Bible is within the 60 day period. If it takes longer, Williams said the committee will communicate that, as well as a reason, to the person making the challenge.

In most districts, the review committee meetings are not open to the public. Only their final conclusions are revealed publicly. Most have a list of books being reviewed on their websites.

In Granite School District, among 44 titles currently under review, the bulk of the requests came from a single individual, Horsley said.

In Davis, those reviewing the challenges do not necessarily have to read the book in its entirety. It depends on what a challenger asserts is in violation of the pornographic or indecent materials definitions. Sometimes it’s just specific passages, while other times it is the entire theme of the book.

The Davis committees also decide “whether the material is age appropriate due to vulgarity or violence.”

Parent groups throughout the country have made what’s on the shelves of school libraries a concern for the last several years. There were videos circulating that targeted certain books, almost exclusively books that included themes of race or LGBTQ issues.

A book can only be challenged once every three years.

With the increase in book challenges — and a law change in Utah last year — there have been more removals than in the past in Davis District. Among those books reviewed are some of the most honored, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison. 

A challenge to the book was received by the Davis District in April 2022, and a decision to remove the book was rendered in November 2022. It was appealed the following month, and the decision to remove the book was upheld and ratified by the school board earlier this month. 

Another book, “Monday’s Not Coming” by Tiffany D. Jackson, was challenged and removed from Davis District’s school libraries, but it was retained in Canyons after a parental complaint (not a formal challenge) in 2021.

While some school districts have dealt with dozens of inquiries and requests for formal reviews, Salt Lake and Park City school districts have received relatively few.

Salt Lake City School District spokeswoman Yándary Chatwin said the school district has only received one request for a review.

Park City School District has four titles currently under review, three of them used as instructional materials and one library book, said spokeswoman Heidi Matthews. It has received a total of 15 requests for reviews, she said.

The titles currently under review include “Beloved” by Toni Morrison; “Empire of Storms” by Sarah J. Maas; “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie; and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.