Letter to the Rockwood School District 09/09/2022

Dr. Curtis Cain
Superintendent
111 East North Street
Eureka, MO 63025
cc: Jaime Bayes
Board of Education President

September 9, 2022

Dear Dr. Cain and Ms. Bayes,

We send letters like this to point out the potential impact of harmful policy decisions. When we advise school districts, library boards, or local politicians against infringing on the first amendment rights of readers, we do so to protect the freedom to read. In most cases, these efforts to censor and control what people read are undertaken with some form of nefarious intent, whether that is to push particular political agendas, to foist religious dogma on public institutions, or to undermine the wellbeing of groups of people who have been historically marginalized by our society. In few cases, like yours, we can appreciate that your effort to remove certain graphic novels is undertaken out of an abundance of caution, and to ultimately protect your employees from prosecution under Missouri’s unjust addition to Missouri Revised Statute 573.550, put into place by SB 775 just recently. That being said, the impact of the decision to remove these books will be the same as the aforementioned nefarious efforts of others. In choosing to preemptively remove graphic novels from your collection, you are sending the message to your students that you support SB 775’s intent, which is to chill access to information, art, and culturally relevant materials in your collection.

We noted with concern that each of the graphic novels you list for removal in your recent post is a locus for just the sort of critical reflection that we claim to be teaching in K-12.  All of these works are cultural touchstones representing political issues or aspects of identity relevant to historically marginalized communities. The visceral impact of graphic novels makes them an important tool for promoting literacy, and for grappling with difficult psychological and sociological issues. For example, Sean Murphy’s Batman: White Knight asks questions about the brutality of our justice system and Katie Green’s Lighter Than My Shadow is the story of the main character’s struggle with disordered eating; these are both books on your removal list. Other graphic novels like Be Gay Do Comics collects stories from diverse artists and writers across the LGBTQ+ spectrum, while Margaret Atwood and Renee Nault’s Handmaid’s Tale presents a dystopian picture of reproductive rights, reflecting the reality in which we now live. These also are on your list for removal.

Obscenity laws like that put into place by SB 775 are simply a means to block access to truth. Visual art, like the written word, is a means by which society views itself through the lens of the author or artist. In this case, it is obvious that certain perspectives are being censored as a means to suppress the vitality and freedom of the reader’s intellectual life. To what end? We ask you as leaders in your district to have courage in the face of this law, to support your staff and your students, and to stand with us against censorship. SB 775 is clearly meant to intimidate districts into taking actions just like the one outlined in your post. Any success of this law will only feed future similar successes, undermining the autonomy of educators as professionals and the wellbeing of students. You will find that elsewhere, as in Virginia last week, laws like this are being overturned outright.  As educators, and stewards of the intellectual wellbeing (not the “purity”) of young people, you must fight back! SB 775’s addition to 573.550 exists exclusively to create chaos in public institutions, and to eventually drive principled teachers and librarians out of the profession. While we can understand trying to protect your employees from being charged with a misdemeanor for doing their jobs, preemptive censorship is ultimately more harmful than theoretical lawsuits that may never come. We as the Intellectual Freedom Committee are also prepared to support you and your district by way of writing letters, providing resources, and communicating with relevant parties. We implore you to reconsider your choice to remove the aforementioned comics and others, and to stand with us in protesting this absurd and unjust law.

Sincerely,

Joe Kohlburn
Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair
Missouri Library Association

Casey Phillips
MLA-IFC Member/ Social Media and Communications

Colleen Norman
Intellectual Freedom Chair-elect
Missouri Library Association

 

Kimberly Moeller
MLA-IFC Member/MLA Executive Board Member

 

Otter Bowman
President-Elect
Missouri Library Association

 

Tiffany Mautino
Intellectual Freedom Committee Past-chair
Missouri Library Association

 

Kris Dyer
MLA-IFC Member/Legislative Liaison

 

Hope Hunter
AASL Delegate/MASL