This letter features reporting from "News Analysis: Illinois Protects Library Books; Missouri Removes Them" by Jane Wiertel
Dear Senator Santarsiero,
Book bans have become a widespread issue across the country, affecting both schools and public libraries. Concerningly, certain books tend to be the easiest targets to be pulled off shelves: those that are about people of color or have LGBTQ+ characters. In “News Analysis: Illinois Protects Library Books; Missouri Removes Them,” author Jane Wiertel explains the rise of these book bans since 2021 and related laws being passed this year. With statistics from literary advocacy organization PEN America, the article reports that “32 states have challenged or banned over 4,000 books since June 2021.” Missouri is one of several states that has passed legislation and enacted rules to encourage book censorship. Meanwhile, Illinois has become the first state to ban book bans. Although decisions on the issue are often made between party lines, over 70 percent of U.S. voters disagree with book banning efforts.
Like many other students across the nation, this issue has strongly affected my local community. I attend high school in the Central Bucks School District (CBSD), which has garnered national attention for its heated school board meetings and controversial policies since 2020. In 2022, the school board adopted Policy 109.2, which allows parents and residents to “formally challenge library material on the basis of appropriateness.” This year, the books Gender Queer and This Book Is Gay were removed from all of our school libraries. Furthermore, the CBSD website has a page that lists 59 additional titles that have been placed under requests for reconsideration.
After passing the policy, the district administration stated that it is a “major mischaracterization” to call the policy “a book ban.” Yet, when compared to other policies across the nation, Policy 109.2 appears to me to be exactly that: a book ban. On the surface, the language of the policy may, to some, seem appealing by giving more power to parents over their children’s education. However, during the review process, the superintendent can remove the book, and the school board ultimately gets to decide what books must be taken off shelves. A lone parent with the same views as the majority on the school board can deny access to a book across libraries in the entire district, excluding diverse viewpoints and undermining education. To me, that is a clear book ban, regardless of what the district terms it.
The ongoing debate in my district is a microcosm of a larger issue in Pennsylvania. Our state has seen some of the highest numbers of book bans across the country, and, while free access to books can be ensured through local means—like my district’s school board elections this year—this issue will not go away without legislation at the state level. Illinois passed a bill that prohibits book bans in schools and public libraries and requires libraries to adopt the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights to receive state-funded grants. These policies in Illinois should serve as a template for legislation in Pennsylvania. In July, your colleague State Senator Amanda Cappelletti introduced a similar bill that would safeguard book access. What has been done with this bill since then? To allow students greater access to diverse viewpoints and promote inclusion and equity, which I know are important to you, I encourage you to speak out and support this bill.
James Wan is a junior at Central Bucks High School East in Pennsylvania. He is passionate about writing and journalism, and he is a staff writer for his school newspaper. He was inspired to write about book bans due to recent events in his school district, and he hopes to see positive change in other school districts in the future. On Sundays, he volunteers at Guanghua Chinese School to teach writing to younger students. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing the violin in his school musical’s pit orchestra, participating in his school’s Scholar's Bowl and AAPI Clubs, and learning about the environment.