WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the past couple of decades, the American Library Association notes more and more books are being challenged or banned from school libraries. They said many of which are by or about black and LGBTQ+ people. Our local congressional members are raising concerns about books they say are unfit for schools and are calling Governor Tom Wolf (D- PA) and acting education Secretary to look into it.
“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe is an example of a book congressional members including Fred Keller (R- PA), Mike Kelly (R-PA) and Glen Thompson (R- PA) said is unfit for schools. The book got the top spot last year for being the most challenged graphic novel, according to the ALA. The New York Times reports the book has been under scrutiny for a few factors: it deals with puberty and sexual identity and includes a few drawings of nude characters and sexual scenarios. Members recently sent a letter to Wolf and the acting education Secretary, concerned books like this one are in school libraries.
“I think we should be more focused on making sure our students are set up for success and rather than this distraction, quite frankly, is what it is,” said Rep. Keller. “And it’s an agenda by somebody to impart I don’t know instill some values or whatever on students and that’s not that’s not the school district’s responsibility.”
In the letter, members want to know what processes are in place to review school library material, how school boards, librarians and others determine age and academically appropriate content and more.
“I think we need to make sure that we get to the bottom of what’s put out in our school libraries before it does become widespread across the entire Commonwealth,” said Keller.
Summer Lopez, the chief program officer for PEN AMERICA, a nonprofit who says they stand at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression, sent us this email statement:
“This intervention by members of Congress in the decisions made by educational professionals in their own schools and communities represents an alarming escalation of the coordinated movement to banish certain books from school classrooms in Pennsylvania and across the country. Our recent report on the rapid spread of school book bans showed that Pennsylvania ranked second only to Texas among states whose school districts have issued the most bans. A letter like this is likely to have a further chilling effect, making teachers hesitant to keep books in their classrooms that could be deemed even remotely controversial and garner this type of attention. And those are often books about characters who are people of color or LGBTQ+, or with related subject matter. The best way to set all students up for success in the classroom and in life is to protect their access to a wide range of stories and perspectives, not to threaten educators with investigations that could violate students’ First Amendment rights.”
According to PEN AMERICA, that book is either banned or banned pending an investigation in five Pennsylvania school districts closer to the Philadelphia area. The letter from members asks the Wolf administration to investigate instances of explicit material being circulated and decide if further oversight is needed. We reached out to the Pennsylvania department of education on this, we did not hear back.