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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Utah Parent Sues School Over Banned Book

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - A parent sued a northern Utah school district for pulling a book about lesbian mothers from elementary library school shelves, and requiring students to have parental permission to read it.

Tina Weber sued the Davis School District in a federal class action. She has two children in the district.

The complaint states: "'In Our Mothers' House,' by Patricia Polacco, is a children's book about three adopted children and their two mothers. In response to complaints from a subset of parents that the book 'normalizes a lifestyle we don't agree with,' Davis School District (the 'District') has instructed its elementary school librarians to remove all copies of 'In Our Mothers' House' from the library shelves and place the book behind a counter where students must have written parental permission to read it. The District does not dispute that it restricted access to 'In Our Mothers' House' because of the ideas the book contains; indeed, the District's primary justification for removing the book from the shelves is that, by telling the story of children raised by same-sex parents, the book constitutes 'advocacy of homosexuality,' in purported violation of Utah's sex-education laws.

"Over 30 years ago, the Supreme Court held that school officials may not remove books from school library shelves because they or their constituents disagree with the ideas those books contain. The District can respect the wishes of parents who disagree with 'In Our Mothers' House' by allowing parents to place limits on their own children's ability to check out particular books. But the District cannot constitutionally use the personal views of some parents to restrict access to books for the entire school community. By restricting access to 'In Our Mothers' House' based on the fact that the book depicts a family with same-sex parents, the District has placed a discriminatory burden on students' ability to access fully protected speech. Even worse, restricting access to 'In Our Mothers' House' and segregating it from the rest of the library collection places an unconstitutional stigma on the ideas contained in the book and the students who wish to read it."

Weber adds: "At some point during the 2011-12 school year, a parent with a kindergartener at Windridge Elementary School complained that her child had come home from school with a copy of 'In Our Mothers' House.' The parent filled out a form to request that the school remove the book from the library shelves."

State policy requires that an official request be filed before a book is removed from school shelves. The complaint is reviewed by a school library media committee and may be appealed before a district committee.

After the complaint, "In Our Mothers' House" was moved from the easy-reading section to a fiction section. But, "the complaining parent was unhappy with the decision" and appealed to the district committee, with complaint forms from 25 additional parents, Weber says.

"I don't agree that wholesome complete parenting can be done by lesbians without a father role. It's not a natural process to have a complete family without a male & female," one parent wrote, according to the complaint.

"This book makes a homosexual lifestyle seem fun and exciting - lots of parties, costumes & events with children who grow up to having successful high paying careers. It normalizes a lifestyle we don't agree with," another form stated.

The district voted 6-1 to remove the book, though Weber cited a 1982 Supreme Court ruling in Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico, which held that officials may not remove books from library shelves because they or their constituents disagree with the ideas those books contain.

Polacco has received numerous literary awards for her work.

Her books feature "an array of families from different races, religions, ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds, including families who are Jewish, Christian, Asian-American, interracial, and Amish," according to the complaint.

Polacco wrote "In Our Mothers' House" after sitting in on a student writing class while visiting an elementary school as a guest speaker.

"As part of the class, students were asked to write an essay on the topic of 'My Family' and read their essays aloud. When one of the students who had two same-sex parents stood up to read her essay, the teacher's assistant in the classroom told her: 'No, sit down. You don't come from a real family,'" the complaint states.

In March, Utah's governor vetoed a bill prohibiting "instruction or the advocacy of the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation, or erotic behavior; homosexuality; contraceptive methods or devices; or sexual activity outside of marriage."

Under state law, however, parents must opt in, in writing, for their children to attend any class discussing human sexuality.

Davis School District, 24 miles north of Salt Lake City in Farmington, had about 70,300 students in 2010-2011, making it the nation's 52nd-largest district, according to ProximityOne.com, a website on the nation's 100 largest school districts.

Weber says the district's action violates the First and 14th Amendments.

She seeks a permanent injunction requiring the district to return copies of "In Our Mothers' House" to library shelves, a declaration that the district may not remove or restrict access to books that purportedly contain "homosexual themes" or "advocacy of homosexuality," and $1 in damages.

She is represented by John Mejia of Salt Lake City, and Joshua Block of New York, with the American Civil Liberties Union.

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