ACLU Investigating Nampa School Board’s Book Removal Decision

Citing potential First Amendment violations, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho filed a public records request with the Nampa School District.

NAMPA, Idaho- This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

Citing potential First Amendment violations, the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho filed a public records request with the Nampa School District for communications related to the board’s decision to remove 22 books from libraries and classrooms in the district.

“We certainly think these books should be back on the shelves, and I think that’s also the goal of many in the community, and that there’s a fair and regular process to then review these books,” said Aadika Singh, legal director for the ACLU of Idaho, in a telephone interview.

The Nampa School District Board voted to permanently remove 22 books from libraries and schools in the district on May 9, even though parent, teacher and staff committees were reviewing the books, as reported previously. In subsequent meetings, the administrators expressed interest in creating and following a formal review process for disputed books, which could lead to some of those removed being re-shelf.

The school district did not provide a comment on the story Wednesday afternoon, and school board officials did not immediately return a request for comment.

The records request, submitted Wednesday morning, seeks documents explaining the events that led to the decision to remove the books and the rationale for that decision, according to a press release from the organization.

“Early evidence suggests that administrators used an ad hoc process and ignored the advice of librarians and teachers and removed these books because they express ideas related to race, gender and sexuality and contain opinions of authors and characters who are members of racial or sexual groups. minority groups,” Singh said in the statement. “If true, the trustees have abused their power and likely violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

The ACLU of Idaho was notified of the board vote the night it happened and wanted to investigate further, Singh said. Colleen Smith, litigation partner at Stris and Maher, LLP, said she watched every public meeting where disputed books were discussed, including the January board meeting where a parent raised the issue of disputed books, she said.

A few key points concern Singh and Smith about the decision to remove the books. Parents have the right to structure and control what their children consume at school, but they do not have the right to control what other children have access to, Singh said.

Administrators appear to have been swayed by a parent who spoke out against the documents, she said.

“School board administrators seem to have embraced this aversion, this discomfort,” Singh said. “That’s what concerns and worries about the First Amendment: local school boards cannot remove books from school libraries because of their dislike or discomfort with the ideas expressed in those books.”

If administrators had removed books because they relied on the opinions of a single parent rather than a review process, it would have violated students’ First Amendment right to access information, Singh said.

There is legal precedent for this. In a case before the United States Supreme Court, Island Trees School District v. Pico, a school district that removed books from school libraries without following formal procedure and without listening to the advice of “literary experts” has been found guilty of violating students’ rights to receive information, according to the American Library Association.

Students’ First Amendment rights protect their access to information so they can learn about different perspectives and eventually become an active member of a diverse society, Singh said.

Smith said it was “disturbing” to see the Nampa School District Board’s decision apparently driven by a parent’s voice, prompting the ACLU’s interest in researching the incident.

It’s also concerning that the books in question in the district were removed from school shelves during the district’s initial review process, Smith said.

“It’s problematic under the law, for example, because if there’s not a good (review) process in place, any parent could challenge a book, have it taken off the shelves of the library, and who knows how long the process would take to decide that this book should return to the shelves,” Smith said.

Singh also noted the optics of the board’s vote to delete the books given that four of the five directors were only months away from a four-year term. The board voted 3-2 to remove the books from libraries and classrooms, with all three votes in favor cast by trustees whose terms began in January 2022 or who were appointed later. The two dissenting votes were cast by Mandy Simpson, who has served on the board since January 2020, and Brook Taylor, whose term began in January 2022.

Singh said it’s a problem if administrators “just do what they want” without following the process. She also said parents shared an interest in the district addressing more pressing issues, such as mental health, gun violence and disproportionate discipline against students of color, she said.

“(The book ban) doesn’t address the real issues and the real concerns of parents,” Singh said. “It’s, you know, a fabricated problem, and board members really need to spend their time dealing with these fundamental challenges of education in the Nampa School District.”

Ultimately, the ACLU of Idaho could sue the district to put the books back on the shelves, Singh said.

“If there is another way to resolve the dispute, through the board doing the right thing on its own, or through continued community pressure, we would welcome that,” Singh said. .

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, learn more at IdahoPress.com.

Check out the latest news from Treasure Valley and Gem State in our YouTube playlist:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Angela C. Hale