Letter to the Wentzville School Board – June 9, 2022

June 9, 2022

Wentzville School Board President

Mr. Daniel Brice

280 Interstate Drive

Wentzville, MO 63385

cc: Dr. Curtis Cain, Dr. Danielle S. Tormala, Superintendent (Present and Future)

 

Dear Mr. Brice and Drs. Cain and Tormala,

We have been informed that your district has again chosen to remove work by LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors from library shelves. Per our letter of January 28, 2022, we again must request that you return the book to circulation. The pertinent question for you is not whether certain books are worthy of being removed, the question is what actual good comes from removing materials? As we implied in our previous letter, one pragmatic reason librarianship as a profession insists on intellectual freedom and not banning or removing certain books based on their content is precisely that doing so becomes a protracted boondoggle that slows down and detracts from the important work with which libraries and schools have been historically concerned: supporting and educating students. We are aware of your present predicament with the ACLU and federal courts, negative media coverage, and push back from all sides, and must assume that the extent of the aforementioned boondoggle is clear to you. We, the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Missouri Library Association (MLA-IFC), would like to again formally express our concern as Missouri librarians and intellectual freedom advocates regarding your recent decision to remove Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home. As with the previous attempt to remove Toni Morrison’s work, this is an ill-founded and disingenuous attempt by a vocal minority to control access to diverse perspectives and experiences obfuscated by concerns about “protecting children”. Removing this work does not, certainly, protect LGBTQ+ youth, who need access to authentic representations of Queer experience to provide context for growing up in a predominantly “straight” society, just as cis/heterosexual children benefit from perspectives like Bechdel’s that help them empathize with and understand the broader scope of human experience.

As quoted in a recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Dr. Rebecca Wanzo, a prominent scholar and professor at Washington University, says, “ Alison Bechdel is one of the preeminent cartoonists of the 21st century…Her work invites conversations about sexuality, trauma, medium and genre, women in the academy, place and childhood”. This work, much like Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, is critically above reproach. If reporting is accurate, and most of these challenges indeed derive from a single parent, we ask you to consider why one parent (or even one group of parents) should be able to dictate the collections of an entire district. We ask you to remember that Fun Home is a memoir, meaning that Bechdel includes the events of her life as part of the art and narrative of the work based on real events. This means that the details of said events were formative and significant to her, not just as art, but as memories in the course of her life. We further ask you to consider what insight petitioners in favor of removing the work have to the experience of children who might grow up to be more like Allison Bechdel. We question if in fact trying to prevent youth from growing up to live open and healthy lives as LGBTQ+ adults is precisely the motivation for removing the work. Should not LGBTQ+ youth have the same freedom to push boundaries in their reading works like Fun Home, as straight youth have when they read any one of thousands of YA books or graphic novels about people like themselves?

We again request that you codify the depth of your commitment to education as a vehicle to understanding and empathy, and reject this outgrowth of political grandstanding performed at the expense of educators and students in your district. In terms of policy improvements, we suggest striking removal of work as the challenge goes through committee and other processes. If you keep the book on the shelf, we suspect you can undermine much of the motivation for challenges in the first place, which seems mostly to be about political haymaking rather than the good of any student in the district.  We further suggest adding provisions that place a moratorium on petitions from individuals who seek to abuse the process of reconsideration for political or personal reasons judged to be in conflict with the interests of students, teachers, and librarians in the district. We continue to support those working toward maintaining and promoting inclusive library collections, and those who cultivate spaces for free inquiry and curiosity to flourish in schools. Please support your students by reconsidering your recent decision, and putting Fun Home back on the shelf.

Signed,

Joe Kohlburn

MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee 2022 Chair

Colleen Norman

MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee 2023 Chair-elect

Tiffany Mautino

MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee Past Chair (2021)

Casey Phillips

MLA-IFC Member/ Social Media and Communications

Ying Li

MLA-IFC Member

Rachelle Brandel

MLA-IFC Member

Kris Dyer

MLA-IFC Member/ Legislative Liaison

Kimberly Moeller

MLA-IFC-Board Liaison

Otter Bowman

Missouri Library Association President-Elect

 

Attachments:

Letter from MLA-IFC- January 2022- https://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/letter-from-missouri-library-association-to-wentzville-school-board-president/article_5583141d-3148-5ce8-a516-86d95395b9ec.html

STL-PD Article on Fun Home Challenge- https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/wentzville-school-board-bans-another-library-book-for-sexual-content/article_83f7a559-cc8c-5848-ae26-2e0d77234add.html

Board Minutes- https://go.boarddocs.com/mo/wsdr4/Board.nsf/Public#

MLA Statement on Recent Challenges- http://molib.org/mla-statement-on-intellectual-freedom/