ST. LOUIS – Missouri has issued bans on nearly 300 books in schools since a new law took effect in August.
PEN America, a national nonprofit that aims to protect freedom of expression, released findings Wednesday and compiled a list of 297 books recently banned at Missouri school libraries.
In August, Missouri enacted a new law to remove certain reading materials in school. As part of S.B. 775, books deemed to contain “explicit sexual material” are now illegal in public and private schools.
State leaders say the book ban is one of several measures in the bill that attempt to address child trafficking. There are some limited exceptions for books that may present ‘explicit’ material, but are considered artistic or informational in nature.
According to PEN America, more than 200 books have been banned from Wentzville School District libraries in St. Charles County. Other districts with new books banned in the St. Louis area include Kirkwood, Mehlville, Lindbergh, Rockwood and Webster Groves.
In some cases, certain books banned from school districts were returned to school districts after pending investigations. Indeterminate periods of review are also ongoing for some books ban from school districts to determine whether or not they return to library shelves. PEN America explains how some banned books are distinguished here.
Some of the books banned include works from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, graphic novel adaptations of classics by Shakespeare and Mark Twain and educational books about the Holocaust.
PEN America has addressed a letter to Missouri school boards and districts over the matter, attempting to collected more than 1,600 signatures as part of a protest against the new law. Organizers say the book bans deprive students of the freedom to read around Missouri.
“These districts seemingly sought to purge any potentially offending visual material to avoid running afoul of the new law,” said Jonathan Friedman, PEN America director of free expression and education programs. “In so doing, they have cast aside the rights of students to read and learn, as well as the fundamental mission of public education and school libraries.”
Meanwhile, state leaders could consider more protocols to make sure schools are following guidance for book bans. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft submitted a proposal last month that would establish a certification requirement for libraries receiving state funds and institute measures to protect minors from non-age-appropriate materials.
As part of the proposal, school libraries would adopt written policies to determine what material is age-appropriate and could not use state funds to purchase materials “that appeal to the prurient interest of a minor.”
“When state dollars are involved, we want to bring back local control and parental involvement in determining what children are exposed to,” said Ashcroft. “Foremost, we want to protect our children.”
Ashcroft’s office opened a 30-day public comment period on his new proposal earlier this week. Missourians can offer feedback on the proposal via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by mail to the Office of the Missouri Secretary of State at this address:
P.O. Box 1767
Jefferson City, MO 65102
CORRECTION: A new detail has been added to explain certain classifications on book bans issued since the enactment of Missouri’s new law. Some have been returned to schools after the bans.