District acts to comply with state law, presents books to ban
Director of Instruction Shauna Smith and Marshalltown High School Librarian Robert Gilbertson presented the Marshalltown Community School Board with a list of 20 books to be removed from school libraries during Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
The action is in compliance with new state law SF496. which prohibits school libraries from having age inappropriate books, or books containing descriptions or images of sex acts. Smith said the removal is temporary.
She told the board Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the law on May 26 and it went into effect July 1. Districts have until January 2024 to remove material from libraries. Smith and district librarians really dug into books to determine whether or not they would violate the law.
“I wanted to let you know how intentional we have been about reading and reviewing the passages that are in some of the books that we have in our libraries,” she said.
Smith said district revisions were made after the law went into effect, and were based upon recommendations of the Iowa Association of School Boards. She said people have wondered what the district has done thus far in accordance with the law.
“At pre-service time, we came together and combined a list of books removed from other schools,” Smith said. “Long story short, we reviewed those in relationship to SF496 and really tried to keep our opinion out . . . We have to make sure we follow Iowa law.”
Two hundred thirty-nine books were researched, 48 were found on district bookshelves and so far 29 have been removed — five from elementary schools, nine from Miller Middle School and 15 from the high school.
She said personnel used the colors red, yellow and green for book labels, coinciding with stoplights. A book that absolutely conflicted was given a red label and needed to be removed. A book that had some connection was given a yellow label, or “yield.”
“We have librarians reading cover-to-cover so we know exactly what is in there,” she said. “So this process has been pretty strenuous.”
Board member Bonnie Lowry asked for clarification that the books included in the presentation have been reviewed, and the consensus is for removal. Smith told her that was correct. Superintendent Theron Schutte stressed that it is based on the law. Smith said the Iowa Department of Education has not provided guidance, and she doesn’t believe it will anytime soon.
“We are doing the best that we can with what we have been given,” she said.
Smith assured everyone there are 20,926 books in Miller and MHS, with many more in the elementaries, giving students numerous titles to choose from.
Gilbertson shared how the district adds books to begin with and does so through established vendors. If a librarian finds a book to add, there needs to be two positive reviews, along with an appropriate age grouping for the intended students.
“We have a lot still to go through,” he said. “It’s been a busy start to the year, and we’re still getting through those books on our carts so we can review them and make a better decision.”
Board member Zach Wahl said it looks like the staff have used a lot of resources and is glad the district is doing due diligence to follow the law.
“I’ve actually read a lot of these books,” said board member Jan McGinnis. “Most of the ones you’re removing are for older students. There’s a couple that I mean, really? Sometimes I haven’t read it for a few years and I have to go back, read it again and look for it because that is not what sticks out when I think of it.”
Wahl asked about the process a parent should go through to ask about a book. Smith said they can reach out to her, and then she can work with the librarian. If there is a challenge, they will be directed to board policy, she said. Parents have the ability to see all of the titles available in the libraries by accessing the online catalog.
“I think in the eight years I’ve been in the district, we’ve only had one situation I’m aware of where a book was being used in a classroom and questioned and went through a process,” Schutte said. “It has not been an issue in our district in the past. It’s important to note it isn’t a matter of ‘We agree or disagree with the position.’ It’s more ‘This is what we need to do to comply with the law.’ I think the intent will be not to burn the books, but to take the books out of circulation.”
He suggested the books might be sold or donated to the public library.
In other business, the board:
Approved an out-of-state trip request to Indianapolis, Ind. for the FFA students from Nov. 1 to Nov. 3.
Approved the issuance of a $13 million bond for the Career and Technical Education section of Marshalltown.
Heard that the district will host Alex Boye at the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center on Sept. 18. Boye is a former contestant on America’s Got Talent. He will perform for his “You Are a 10” series which shines light on mental health. The performance is open to the public and without charge.
Heard from Nora Ryan that open interviews for support staff positions will be held Sept. 12 and Sept. 14. She said they are able to hire non-English speakers for food service and buildings and grounds positions.
Approved moving the Sept. 18 meeting to Sept. 19 for the Boye performance.
Books removed from Marshalltown elementary schools include:
• “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt
• “Drama” by Raina Telgemeier
• “Julie of the Wolves” by Jean Craighead George
• “And Tango Makes Three” by Peter Parnell
• “The Family Book” by Todd Parr
Two of the books — “Angela’s Ashes” and “Julie of the Wolves” — were removed for sexual content, the others for sexual orientation.
Books removed from Miller Middle School and Marshalltown High School include:
• “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
• “The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
• “Me, Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jessie Andrews
• “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher
• “Carnival at Bray” by Jessie Ann Foley
• “Looking for Alaska” by John Green
• “Identical” and “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins
• “Monday’s Not Coming” by Tiffany Jackson
• “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin
• “A Court of Thorns and Roses” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas
• “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
• “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
• “Native Son” by Richard Wright
All of the books were removed for containing sexual content.
Contact Lana Bradstream
at 641-753-6611 ext. 210 or