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Student Dylan Carney looks at books in the Alta Media Center. The group Utah Parents United is asking the Media Center to pull books they find objectionable. Students and teachers addressed the board and discouraged censorship of school library materials.

Alta High Students Speak Out Against the Book Ban

Alta High School teachers and students spoke out against the new book ban at the Canyons School District board meeting last Tuesday.

Discussion of a book ban began about a month ago when the mother of a student at Corner Canyon High School emailed the administrators at Canyons School District with concerns regarding the content of several books. Some of these titles included, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “Gender Queer” Maia Kobabe. Since this original email, administrators have received hundreds of emails from parents concerned that books in the libraries are “too explicit.”

Utah Parents United has been at the forefront of the movement towards a book ban. They released an hourlong video that asked parents to call the local police when they found an explicit book in the school library. There is a growing list of advocates who are pushing back against the book ban and Alta High students are on the top of that list.

In a board meeting on November 30, 2021, several Alta High students spoke in defense of keeping the books in school libraries. Merrin Maughan told the importance of reading. She went on to explain that students often find themselves in the characters of the book and that this book ban seems to be targeting minorities.

Merrin said, “By upholding [Utah Parents United’s] agenda, you discredit and invalidate the stories-the plot lines, the characters, the meaning-behind all of identities that are empowered in that representation.”

In 2019, the American Library Association released that eight of the ten most banned books contained story lines that were centered on LGBTQ+ issues. In 2020, “The Hate You Give” by Angie Thomas was one of the books that was banned. This book dealt with racial and social justice issues.

Libraries have always been a place where students could explore and read about all sorts of experiences. Everyone comes from different walks of life and should be able to read something they can relate to. Alta English and Debate teacher, Sydnie Shoepf told the board that it is dangerous to start banning books, especially the ones that talk about minorities and other social issues. “Students of color and LGBTQ youth start struggling to find themselves within the pages of the books they read,” Schoepf explained.

Ninth grade English teacher, Mrs. Wilkinson, said one of the wonderful things about the school library is that students can find themselves in books on the shelves. “Students can find themselves in our library,” she said. “This helps create a school culture of acceptance and inclusion. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is accepted. Everyone is important.”

Having books that represent all groups of students is essential. Reading is what “ties us all together as humans. “By allowing anyone, anywhere to challenge, restrict, or ban literature for any reason could be a disaster for our community,” Wilkinson said. “In the end, this is telling our more marginalized and ignored group of students they don’t matter.”

As a parent and a teacher Wilkinson wants children and  young adults to “see themselves and their world in our public school library.”

Alisha Ruiz, an Alta High Senior, then shared her struggle with being a minority in Utah. She went on to say, “One of the few comforts that I found was reading stories that had Mexican-American women and girls who shared the same struggles as me.” If these books continue to be banned, students will struggle to find comfort in a book.

One of the major concerns of Utah Parents United was the presence of explicit sexual content in these titles. Alta student, Jaxson Baker countered this concern stating, “When pursuing through the shelves of any library, no student is going out of their way to search for sexually explicit content…Students are looking for narratives that they feel they can relate or escape to.”

None of the titles in question are currently part of any school curriculum. They are simply books that students can choose to read and Alta High students believe that there should be a wide variety to choose from.

Canyons School District will deliberate the issue and make a decision as to their response to patron comments and current district policies.

 

 

 

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