ID school board elections could determine fate of book restrictions
Monday, November 6, 2023
School board elections in Idaho on Tuesday could impact what students are allowed to read.
Although school board elections are often overlooked, they've increasingly become races to watch - in part because of a rise in "book bans" that supporters say protect kids from content that some consider "obscene."
Kurt Zwolfer is director of The Cabin, a center for readers and writers in Boise. He said he thinks school boards are overstepping their duties, when librarians and educators are trained to do the work of book curation.
"When it starts to affect reading choices for kids, and it's a small group of people trying to restrict or change those choices, that's when that issue becomes important to a group like ours," said Zwolfer. "And we want people to pay attention to the election and, if they agree or disagree, to insert themselves into the process and make sure their voices are heard."
Book bans are happening in Idaho. After some lawmakers sent out a list of books they wanted to see removed from school libraries at the beginning of the year, the Kuna School District put 25 books under restricted access.
The Nampa school board restricted books even before lawmakers sent out their list.
Zwolfer said a small but vocal group of people on these boards is making choices for other parents.
"They're actually restricting the other parents' rights on what their kids can consume," said Zwolfer, "both for reading and for media."
A report from PEN America out this year found nearly 1,500 instances of individual books banned in 37 states.
Thirty percent of the books were about race, racism or featured people of color, and 25% include LGBTQ characters or themes.
Zwolfer said these books are important for the students who identify with them, but they also have value for students who've had different experiences.
"Students who are from those communities and maybe don't have those experiences, reading about characters who have experiences other than their own can be powerful experiences for helping build community," said Zwolfer, "and building empathy in the students as they progress into their adulthood."
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