In less than three months, Nixa High School has received 17 official requests to remove a total of 16 books from its library shelves.
The list includes well-known and, in some cases, award-winning book titles such as “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Bluest Eye” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
At this point, none have been fully removed. But access to six of the books in question will be restricted.
In the requests filed by 10 Nixa women between Feb. 11 and April 18, the most frequent concern cited is inappropriate and sexually explicit content.
There were two challenges filed to the book “The Infinite Moment of Us.” In one request, Dana Crowder wrote: “I could hardly read these pages because of the graphic language describing two teenagers having sex. This book is not appropriate for 13-year-olds. The language is pervasively vulgar and educationally unsuitable.”
The News-Leader called the women who filed the most requests and reached Carissa Corson, who objected to three books including “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto,” and “Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard.”
“We are protecting minors from pornography,” she said.
Corson confirmed she was part of the private Facebook group “Concerned Parents of Nixa,” which has 250 members. According to its public description, the group formed with the goal of “fighting questionable books, curriculum and other materials such as sex education in Nixa Public Schools.”
Asked if the group has a leader, Corson said no. “These are concerned parents, as the name suggests.”
The News-Leader asked if more book challenges are planned. Corson answered: “We are waiting just to see how everything plays out.”
“What I’m prepared to tell you right now is what I would tell anybody at this point, is to come to the next school board meeting, which is May 12,” she said. “And they’ll see and hear everything.”
A group of Nixa parents unhappy with the requests is working with an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in an effort to keep the books on the shelves. They refer to themselves, informally, as book warriors.
“This is ridiculous,” said parent Tamara Yancy, who has three children in the district and works as a substitute teacher.
She noted the books placed in the library were chosen by trained librarians who want to encourage children to read and learn about the world.
“I am against censorship or removing books of any kind,” she said.
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Nixa controversy mirrors national trend
The number of books targeted for removal at Nixa High School has skyrocketed.
Zac Rantz, chief communications officer, said in the 16 years prior to the 2021-22 school year, there was only one formal challenge.
This year, there have been 17 requests involving 16 books and nearly all were written in the past two decades:
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto” by George Matthew Johnson, 2020
- “Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard” by Echo Brown, 2020
- “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi, 2017
- “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez, 2015
- “Blankets” by Craig Thompson, 2015
- “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin, 2014
- “The Infinite Moment of Us” by Lauren Myracle, 2014
- “Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi, 2009
- “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, 2007
- “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel, 2006
- “The Glass Castle: A Memoir” by Jeannette Walls, 2006
- “Looking for Alaska” by John Green, 2006
- “Crank” by Ellen Hopkins, 2004
- “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky, 1999
- “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, 1985
- “Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, 1970
The spike Nixa has experienced in book challenges mirrors what has been happening across the U.S.
The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks challenges to library, school and university materials.
There were 729 challenges, involving 1,597 books, in 2021. That’s up from 377 in 2019 and 347 in 2018. (Only 156 challenges were logged in 2020, when many of the school and college campuses were closed during the pandemic).
Four of the 15 books targeted for removal in Nixa were on the association’s list of Top 10 books challenged nationally in 2021.
One of the books is “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out.” In requesting a review and removal, Nixa patron Rebecca Kauffman wrote: “This book is not educational in an appropriate way for minors. It has one chapter that is very sexually explicit.”
Another book is “Out of Darkness.” Nixa patron Corin Harskey objected to descriptions of rape, oral sex and orgasm.
“If these scenarios are disturbing to you, they certainly were to me, imagine viewing them through the eyes of a minor,” Harskey wrote on the form. “Given that the mental health of children is of growing concern, I would imagine that allowing children to access such disturbing material can only contribute to the problem.”
Laura Collins, a parent, said she is frustrated by the flurry of requests and wants high school students to have access to “literature that is diverse, that exposes our kids to different viewpoints and life perspectives.”
She said the books deal with larger societal issues — racism, poverty, abuse — which can be helpful for students to explore.
“These are real problems that happen in our community and even within the school itself and some of these kids have no one to go to, they do not have supportive homes,” she said. “Sometimes, even seeing a fictional character going through the same experience as them can help them process or not feel so alone or even encourage them to reach out to someone for help if they’re in a bad situation.”
Collins said many of the books being challenged deal with “complex topics.”
“This is a way for them to form empathy and understanding and engage in critical thinking,” she said. “Removing these doesn’t solve anything.”
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Committees rule on 10 books
In Nixa, and many Missouri districts, parents have the authority to tell the district not to assign or lend a specific book, or instructional material, to their child.
The recent flurry of requests in Nixa goes a step further. In all cases, parents asked that the targeted book no longer be available at school.
Rantz said none of the books in question are required reading for classes. But they are available in the high school library.
In 2002, the school board adopted policy KLB-AP that outlines the steps to be taken to give a fair hearing to any patron who objects to instructional, media or library materials.
They fill out the “Request for Reconsideration of Materials” form. The News-Leader filed a Sunshine Law request to obtain the 17 filed since mid-February.
A committee is formed to evaluate any book targeted for removal. It includes a librarian, teacher, district patron, and, if necessary, an administrator.
The materials in question are not removed from use pending committee study and final action by the board.
Rantz said the first 15 books have been assigned to a committee, which evaluates the material and recommends one of three options: Remove the book, retain the book with restrictions, or retain the books without restrictions.
He said committee work is ongoing but recommendations have been issued in 10 of the books. For four, the recommendation was the books remain on library shelves without any restrictions:
- “The Handmaid’s Tale”
- “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic”
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto”
The committees recommended six books be retained with restrictions, meaning they will no longer be visible on library shelves and can only be checked out with parent permission:
- “Looking for Alaska”
- “The Glass Castle: A Memoir”
- “The Bluest Eye”
- “Black Girl Unlimited: The Remarkable Story of a Teenage Wizard”
- “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Under the policy, the individual who filed the objection is notified of the finding and can appeal to the school board, which has the final say.
Currently, three committee recommendations have been appealed, including:
- “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic”
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto”
Collins said the review process outlined in board policy requires the district to inform the person challenging the book — but not the rest of the parents, or the school as a whole — of any outcome.
“I don’t think most parents in the district know this is happening,” she said.
She said parents aware of the challenges have been “email bombing” school leaders in an effort to get information. “They’re not telling parents about this.”
‘Something needs to be done’
The next meeting of the Nixa school board is May 12. It is too early to know if the book challenges will be on the agenda.
The topic of censoring books was raised in many school board races this year and Nixa was no exception.
Mike Copeland, on the board 12 years, was re-elected but newcomer Bridget Bidinger earned the most votes.
The News-Leader reached out to Bidinger — who did not challenge any of the books — to ask if she was part of the “Concerned Parents of Nixa” group. But she did not answer that question.
“I won’t be commenting,” she said.
In a video interview posted in March by “We The People of Missouri,” a liberty watchdog group with a Christian County chapter, asked then-candidate Bidinger her opinion on the books available in school libraries.
“It’s not about banning books, it’s about making sure that the school library is offering books that are age-appropriate because I personally don’t feel that we should shy away from providing tough subjects for a student to handle,” she said.
Bidinger said the district makes students aware of dangers on the internet but she was “disappointed, to say the least” to learn “certain books” were available in the schools — but she did not list the books of concern.
“When it comes to books that are sexually explicit in nature or pornographic in nature, those books have no place whatsoever on the library shelves,” she said.
In the interview, Bidinger said, if elected, she will advocate for “better vetting processes” for books and a quick, easy way to notify parents of any book that a child checks out.
“Something needs to be done on the front end because these types of books are going to continue to come in,” she said. “And I think it’s the school’s responsibility, not just the parents’ to protect and shield them from a mental and wellness standpoint.”
Most challenged books, 2021
In 2021, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom logged 729 challenges to library, school and university materials and services. Of the 1,597 books targeted, here are the most challenged and the reasons cited for censoring the books:
1. “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to have sexually explicit images
2. “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
3. “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson
Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, profanity, and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
4. “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez
Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted for depictions of abuse and because it was considered to be sexually explicit
5. “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, violence, and because it was thought to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda
6. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references and use of a derogatory term
7. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and degrading to women
8. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Banned and challenged because it depicts child sexual abuse and was considered sexually explicit
9. “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson
Reasons: Banned, challenged, relocated, and restricted for providing sexual education and LGBTQIA+ content.
10. “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin
Reasons: Banned and challenged for LGBTQIA+ content and because it was considered to be sexually explicit.
Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to [email protected]