MENOMONEE FALLS, Wis. — Community members had lots on their minds during Monday night’s school board meeting in the wake of 33 books being removed from the Menomonee Falls High School library after being deemed too graphic.
Some felt so strongly as to bring signs to the meeting denouncing the removal of certain books. Rebecca Bannister, whose daughter recently graduated from the school district, held a sign that compared book bans to book burns. Bannister said books are one of the healthiest places for a child to receive information.
“You can see worse things on the internet,” Bannister said. “You can’t tell me half these kids aren’t already Googling things they shouldn’t be, but a book from a well-known author like Tony Morrison put on a ban is insane.”
Andy Guss is a co-leader of Grassroots Menomonee Falls and the parent of two kids in the school district. He says parents should be the only ones deciding what their children read.
“It is my choice for my student,” Guss said. “For me to look at what my student should read. Not for one person in the district to make a choice for all the students.”
The meeting began with the usual school board items — budget and health insurance discussions. Most attendees planned on speaking during the public comment section. When that time came up, Board President Dr. Nina Christensen introduced a motion to reduce the time of each speaker from five minutes to two minutes.
Dr. Christen said it was to accommodate the volume of people who wished to speak, but the move was met with boos and jeers. Board member Keri Duce called it a ‘terrible idea,’ but the motion passed.
Community members on both sides of the issue came to make comments. One father of four suggested the books are too graphic for young readers.
“I fully support freedom of speech, as it is enshrined in the constitution,” he started. “However, that does not mean that all content is appropriate for all ages.
“We’re not talking about banning books from society. We’re talking about removing books with sexually explicit material off the bottom shelf so they can’t be inadvertently consumed by kids who are not ready to process such ideas. If you aren’t allowed to buy it from the adult book store, you should not be able to check it out from the school library.”
Whitney Roth is another parent of Menomonee Falls students and said the move was an overreach by the school.
“My husband and I are here tonight because we believe all students and families have rights to freely access information through print and non-print materials,” Roth began. “We believe parents have a right to determine what is appropriate for their own children. Taking away over thirty books from the library took that right away as parents.”
Among the parents were young people too, like a recent graduate of Menomonee Falls High School.
“I’ve seen comments all over social media about how we can access the same material on our phones. The point so many are missing is that we can access that content on our own time,” they said. “For example: it is very easy to get ahold of drugs in our high school. It has been a problem for a long time. Does that mean the school should allow drugs to be available in school?”
Public comment concluded with Dr. Christensen reading a statement from a former Menomonee Falls School Board member addressing the calls for the banned books to be returned to the library.
“The superintendent of any public school is authorized to direct staff to remove content from circulation at any time,” Dr. Christensen said while reading the statement.
“I have seen the argument that parents can choose for their child, but not force their beliefs on my child. There is no such parent’s choice in a school library setting. Those choices are made by a staff member, who one hopes would be acting to protect children.”
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