CUMMING, Ga. (AP) — When Allison Strickland urged a school board in suburban Atlanta to remove four books from school libraries in June, she was following a path charted out by Georgia’s Republican lawmakers.
But after that the bitterly debated The Georgian law came into force on January 1st. The Associated Press noted that few book challengers use it.
A key element in curbing complaints: the law allows only parents of current students to appeal books.
Although not new The book challenges have increased since 2020 part of one Backlash to what children read and discuss in public schools. Conservatives want to discourage children from reading books on sexuality, gender, race and religion that they find offensive. PEN America, a group promoting freedom of expression, counted 4,000 cases of book bans nationwide from July 2021 to December 2022.
But while fighting continues in Forsyth County, where Strickland protested, at least 15 other large Georgia counties surveyed by the AP said they had not received requests to remove books under the law.
Georgia conservatives wanted to ease book challenges last year. But lawmakers knew that restricting just parents would restrict them, too.
“We are not going to make this bill a weapon for any taxpayer to bully the school system,” Rep. James Burchett, a Waycross Republican, said during a 2022 hearing.
However, some books disappear. Kasey Meehan, director of PEN America’s Freedom to Read, said some schools remove books even before parents ask. That’s what happened in Forsyth County, where documents obtained by AP show that a librarian “removed” two books that Strickland objected to from another high school’s library just before they were challenged there.
Those who object to books say Georgian law is interpreted too narrowly and removing books should be easier. In most states, anyone can challenge a book, not just parents, Meehan said. But other districts also limit protests against books to parents.
Georgia’s law may prevent wide-ranging challenges from a handful of conservative activists. Research has shown There are complaints across the country driven by only a few people – who are sometimes not parents.
Forsyth County, a fast-growing suburb of 54,000 students, is a breeding ground for conservative agitation about public education.
Strickland, a parent of two West Forsyth High School students, complained about sexually explicit books in March, attaching excerpts from BookLooks. The Conservative Website Highlights Passages that their authors consider offensive. Strickland worked with that Mama Bearsa group that recruits book challengers.
Strickland had four novels in his sights: ER Frank’s Dime, in which a girl is lured into prostitution; Ellen Hopkins’ “Tilt,” in which a 17-year-old girl becomes pregnant and a 16-year-old boy falls in love with an HIV-positive boy; Perfect, another Hopkins book about teenagers confronted with unrealistic expectations; and “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwoodabout a plague that kills most people.
The Headmaster checked the books as required by law. In April, a Forsyth director joined a complaint and removed BT Gottfred’s “The Nerdy and the Dirty.” But the director of West Forsyth concluded that the books that Strickland was targeting should stay on the shelves. She appealed to the school board.
“None of these books have anything remotely educational about them,” Strickland told board members, saying that the books “run the gamut from child prostitution, forced rape, pedophilia, sodomy, sodomy, drug and alcohol abuse, all very small.” underage children, often with adult partners.”
Others disagreed, including TJ McKinney, a retiring Forsyth middle school teacher. She said students must reflect their problems in books and there is no point in protecting older students from vulgarity or sex.
“The book does not introduce children to sex. “When you’re in high school, they have sex,” McKinney said. “You don’t learn that from books.”
Forsyth Superintendent Jeff Bearden supported the principal’s recommendation that the books be preserved, as he had done twice before. But the law requires the board to decide.
In April, the board members backed up the administration and kept Endlessly Ever After, a fairy tale where you can choose your own adventure. But in May, the board overruled Bearden, requiring prior parental approval before students could read Gottfred’s The Handsome Girl & Her Beautiful Boy.
Given the challenges of Strickland in June, the board members also required parental approval for the four books. The compromise made many dissatisfied.
“I’m asking you, fellow board members, are you really going to compromise on the issue of child pedophilia?” asked Mama Bears CEO Cindy Martin ahead of the vote. “If the answer is yes, what compromise will you make next?
“I see it as a loss,” McKinney said after the meeting. “Students still do not have the right to choose their own books.”
Forsyth County was once a rural place where white mobs lived terrorized the black minority in 1912 to escape. But suburban growth made it well educated, wealthy and diverse. Only 47% of Forsyth students last year were white and non-Hispanic.
But it’s also heavily Republican, and in 2021 crowds attacked the system’s diversity, equity and inclusion plan. The excitement turned to book protests. Officials confiscated eight books From the libraries in early 2022. They would later return all but All Boys Aren’t Blue, George M. Johnson’s memoir about growing up queer.
Opponents organized themselves against the bans. High school senior Shivi Mehta said she wanted libraries to “stay whole.”
“I don’t want a few books locked away,” Mehta said. “I don’t want to have books that I can’t read or have access to because a group of politicians said I couldn’t.”