Community members rally against proposed Utah school library book review policy

Kelly Whited Jones, teacher in the Davis School District, speaks at a rally in opposition to a school library book review policy proposed by the Utah State Board of Education in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

Kelly Whited Jones, teacher in the Davis School District, speaks at a rally in opposition to a school library book review policy proposed by the Utah State Board of Education in Salt Lake City on Thursday. (Logan Stefanich, KSL.com)



Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE — Juliet Reynolds is the mother of kids who are part of the LGBTQ community and said that she fears removing certain book titles from school libraries could lead to increased suicide rates.

Reynolds, founder of the Murray Equity Alliance, said that for some LGBTQ youth, seeing their experiences represented through literature can be the difference between "life and death."

"Some kids are closeted because they've got parents that are intolerant or that just don't understand, and they feel really alone and isolated," Reynolds said, adding that the same situation applies to stories from or about any diverse perspectives. "One story is never a good idea," she said.

This is just part of why Reynolds joined other activists on Thursday outside of the Utah State Board of Education Building to push the board not to adopt a policy that would restrict the availability of books deemed explicit from school libraries.

The issue was spurred by parental outcry in November that led to nine titles being removed from library shelves in Canyons School District before six of the nine titles were returned to shelves in February.

"I have come across many videos on social media about sexually explicit books in our Utah school libraries, and in school libraries around the country," a Canyons School District parent wrote in an email obtained by KSL.com through a public records request. "I am asking that you will spend the time to review the videos below for inappropriate material. There are many more but it is exhausting mentally, watching and reviewing these books' content."

Jeff Haney, communications director for Canyons School District, told KSL.com that "numerous" parental complaints triggered the review, adding that the district even received two GRAMA requests to review the titles of an entire collection of books at one high school, two middle schools and two elementary schools in the district.

This contention picked up more steam as the conservative parent group Utah Parents United pushed more districts to remove titles that they said contained "pornographic or indecent material," and lobbied in support of HB374, a bill that bans "sensitive materials" and requires school districts to evaluate objectionable content in libraries or classrooms and report it to the Utah State Board of Education and, ultimately, the Legislature.


Banning a book because it features a gay or transgender character or touches on difficult topics that impact real teens — like drug abuse, sexual assault and racism — does a disservice to all students, but worse, it alienates students who see elements of themselves and their lives in those themes and characters.

–Jeff Bannon, Utah Alliance Coalition


"Right now, our children are exposed to pornography in school libraries," said Nichole Mason, president of Utah Parents United. "They have unrestricted access to graphic pornographic novels that, really, are against the law."

The House Education Committee in February voted 11-2 to pass HB374 and the Legislature later approved the bill, which was signed by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

"This is not about banning books," Senate floor sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said on the final night of the legislative session. "It's about a good process for reviewing what books are appropriate in schools under the same standard already applied to students and other materials in our existing code."

Fast forward to Thursday as the State Board of Education held a meeting with one action item on the agenda aiming to pass the "Library Materials Model Policy," proposed by board member Natalie Cline.

It's a policy that Utah Alliance Coalition President Frank Brannon described as "extreme," saying it "limits the diversity of library materials for students."

"Utah's educational system belongs to all of us," Brannon said. "Banning a book because it features a gay or transgender character or touches on difficult topics that impact real teens — like drug abuse, sexual assault and racism — does a disservice to all students, but worse, it alienates students who see elements of themselves and their lives in those themes and characters."

Kelly Whited Jones is an educator in the Davis School District who said that last year the district saw 38 books that were challenged — and all of them remained on the shelves.

As an educator, Jones said that she believes society has to be careful about "what we label as pornography."

Holding a copy of "The Bluest Eye," by Toni Morrison — a novel about a young Black girl who prays to change her race so she can be accepted — Jones acknowledged that the book does contain age-sensitive and explicit material.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat that. I think a 12th grader, I think, even an eighth grader could read this book," Jones said.

She describes a passage in the book where the main character is sexually assaulted by a family member.

"It's not a huge portion of the book, but it is part of the character development and I think it teaches us that folks come from some really hard, tough experiences," Jones said. "For the child who, you know, maybe has experienced sexual assault and hasn't had the words to describe what has happened to them, reading a book like this can be a way for them to actually learn how to speak up and speak against sexual assault."


This is not about banning books. It's about a good process for reviewing what books are appropriate in schools under the same standard already applied to students and other materials in our existing code.

–Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross


On the heels of the rally, the Utah State Board of Education conducted its meeting, one dominated by debate and many back-and-forths regarding the wording and phrasing of the book review policy.

"I don't think we're anywhere close to taking a vote on this," board member Brent Strate said. "I'd say we end the meeting on this and come back to it another meeting."

He followed that statement with a motion to do just that, saying that the board would schedule a meeting for a later date where the book review policy would be the first item on the agenda.

The motion passed and the board adjourned.

Board member Mark Hunstman urged his fellow board members to prepare motions on the agenda item in advance so that the board could come to a decision rather than going back and forth on discussions surrounding the policy.

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Logan Stefanich is a reporter with KSL.com, covering southern Utah communities, education, business and military news.

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