LCSD1 Book Ban Battle: Public Comment Majority Opposes New Policy
The specter of Fahrenheit 451 appeared at the Laramie County School District 1 when Suzan Skaar took the mic during the November 20, 2023, Board Meeting. The issue at hand? A new library book policy has sparked public discourse since the summer.
Skaar appeared at the meeting on behalf of the Wyoming Family Alliance for Freedom, an organization that has, from the start of the issue, been against the policy changes. Her statement and those of other public members raised concerns of flagrant disregard for the desires of LCSD1 constituents - the students, educators, and people of Cheyenne. Further inflaming the matter are outright claims of discrimination and racism illustrated in the deluge of public comments against the new policy.
Voices Against the LCSD1 Book Policy Changes:
The Will of the People
Ms. Skaar approached the microphone with Fahrenheit 451 in hand. "After careful review of the over 1500 comments submitted, it is clear that our community overwhelmingly supports keeping current policy as is," said Skaar, "As a recently retired librarian from this district, who has felt attacked and called a groomer and a pedophile by extremists, I feel community support and hope our LCSD1 librarians and educators feel some comfort, too, as I know this issue has been so difficult for many of you. I hope the comments have shown you, the educators, that you are trusted, loved, and appreciated in this community."
Skaar and the WFAF took a firm stand against the policy, echoing the majority of the public comments indicating opposition to the new policy. "Any trustee who votes to change the policy does so in open defiance of the will of the people they have a solemn duty to represent. We know you are capable of doing the right thing. We will applaud you when you vote 'no' on changing the current library policy."
Representation of Marginalized Populations
The public outcry received further support from Leslie Gallon, a former Special Education teacher in LCSD1 who serves as a school psychologist in another district. "I have to admit that I am appalled and discouraged to learn that this school board, many community members, and national organizations with little or no connection to this community have made changing an already sufficient opt-out option for library books such an item of importance and such a waste of time and effort when there are so many other issues facing education right now that are of much greater importance," said Gallon.
Leslie Gallion pointed out that students of marginalized groups benefit from seeing people "that are similar to them in these supposedly controversial books." Her statement echoed the statistics noted by the American Library Association (ALA), which reported "a dramatic uptick in book challenges and outright removal of books," portraying marginalized groups, including the LGBTQIA+ demographic.
Concern over discrimination and lack of representation has been raised since the new book policy was proposed earlier this year. Among those voicing concern over the issue was Ms. Gallion, who told the School Board, "In order for me to be state and nationally certified as a Special Education teacher and school psychologist, I had to attest in writing that I would not, would not, discriminate against any student. And it is my hope that you would do the same."
One public comment mirrored Gallion's statement: "Kids need books. They need books they can relate to, and not all kids live perfect lives. The books you deem as "explicit" could save a kid's life."
Definitions and Opinions: Who's Making the Decisions
One significant query illustrated by public comment is the question of defining "sexually explicit."
"Who gets to determine what acts are sexual?" asked one commenter, "Is kissing sexual? Is it only sexual if it's a member of the opposite sex? Same sex? Where does hugging fall on the spectrum?" Several commenters point out that the Bible contains sexually explicit content and ask if it would fall under the sexually explicit category.
Strain on LCSD1 Librarians & Educators
Numerous comments pointed out the stress the new policy has put librarians under, stress which would continue should the policy be approved. "The new amendments are not necessary and will put undue pressure on LCSD1 staff," said one public member.
"...current librarians are responsible for so much and have been under attack ever since this book banning started; you're adding more stress and continue to question their professionalism by suggesting the policy change." stated another comment.
Censorship of Knowledge & Political Intrest
One comment came from a group of attorneys expressing concern over several facets of the new policy, including its ability to undermine academic freedom. "Put plainly, the proposed policy threatens the principles of intellectual freedom and creates serious legal repercussions," wrote the group, "...the proposed policy allows parents/guardians to subjectively 'nominate' any book for inclusion on the restricted sexually explicit list. Such a broad policy fundamentally undermines academic freedom, access to information, and the First Amendment." The same group added concern that the changes would result in expensive legal challenges for the district.
Concern over censorship has fueled much of the opposition to the new policy. "Keep politics out of this. Libraries should be for all, not what a small group wants," said one comment.
"I do not wish my child to have censorship of knowledge...Part of gaining an understanding of the world and being able to contribute to it is them having to many aspects of life...They do not deserve to be censored." wrote one parent.
"...I do not believe the Board should be making decisions best left to parents," said another.
Voices For the LCSD1 Book Policy Changes:
Numerous voices within the public comments echoed support for the new policy.
"Thank you, School Board! I think this is wonderful." wrote one supporter.
"Eliminate all sexual material. It has no place in our children's libraries." wrote another.
"Vote yes on the changes to library policy...If a book cannot be read aloud to the board for being inappropriate, then it shouldn't be in our school libraries," argued one parent.
Though many declared support for the policy, the outcry against the matter far outweighed them. The WFAF reported that 75% of the public commented against the changes.
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Gallery Credit: Glenn Woods