The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Spotsylvania comes to its senses and rescinds order banning books in school libraries

A large crowd gathers in the Chancellor High School auditorium as the Spotsylvania County School Board prepares to hear public comments on pulling books from county school libraries on Nov. 15. (Peter Cihelka/AP)

The parents of a high school student in Spotsylvania County appeared before the school board this month to complain about two books available to students from school libraries that they considered objectionable. Schools have become a flashpoint in the country’s cultural and political wars, and so the knee-jerk response from the school board — ordering the removal of “sexually explicit” books from school libraries — was not a surprise. What followed, though, was a heartening example of a community showing more common sense than its elected school board members and unafraid to speak its mind.

Widespread opposition from students, parents and teachers persuaded the board on Monday to rescind its Nov. 8 unanimous decision directing Schools Superintendent S. Scott Baker to reconsider whether every sexually explicit book in school libraries should be kept or permanently removed. The order, The Post’s Hannah Natanson reported, had forced “a team of about three dozen staffers, including all of the district’s librarians, to start poring through tens of thousands of titles.”

Spotsylvania English teacher: My school board’s rejection of ‘sexually explicit’ books sends a cruel message to students like my daughter

The absurdity of that task — and the comments from two board members that books found to be objectionable should be burned — sparked community outrage and national attention. After an outpouring of testimony during Monday’s four-hour public comment period, and an opinion from the school district’s attorney that such a ban was likely unconstitutional, the board backed down in a 5-to-2 vote. Dissenting were the two board members who talked about burning books, Kirk Twigg and Rabih Abuismail. A change in the board makeup in January means the issue may be revisited.

School boards across the country are being confronted by parents wanting to scrub school shelves of books they find inappropriate. The targets range from works dealing with LGBTQ and race issues to decades-old classics. Politicians have piled on. A campaign ad for Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) featured a mother who wanted “Beloved,” Toni Morrison’s classic, banned from her son’s high school. Both Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) have called for investigations into “pornography” in schools.

The Spotsylvania parents objected to two books: “Call Me By Your Name,” a novel that centers on a gay relationship, and “33 Snowfish,” a story about three homeless teens. Both books have been critically acclaimed, and both deal with challenging issues. The Spotsylvania parents are entitled to say they don’t want their child reading these books, but yanking them out of libraries and depriving other students of the opportunity is not the solution. Schools generally have policies in place to deal with parents’ concerns.

There is a long history in this country of efforts to ban books, but many librarians see the current campaign as unprecedented in scope. Hopefully, Spotsylvania’s experience will prompt some would-be book burners to think more deeply.