Lindbergh Board of Education votes to retain challenged books

Challenged books “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Gender Queer” will stay in library

Lindbergh Board of Education votes to retain challenged books

By Lucas Irizarry, Staff Reporter

The Lindbergh Schools Board of Education voted last week to keep two challenged books in the high school’s library. 

The board voted 6-1 Dec. 16 to retain both “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Gender Queer” in the library with no restrictions and “The Handmaid’s Tale” as an optional English 2 Honors book with a parental warning at the beginning of the semester.

The challenge review committee, consisting of two parents, two library media specialists, one teacher, two students who are at least 18, Lindbergh High School Principal Eric Cochran, and Jeremy Mapp, director of inclusion, equity and diversity, made the recommendations the board approved, but an appeal by challengers forced the board to make the final call.

Treasurer Mike Tsichlis said he “wasn’t comfortable” with the difference between leaving “The Handmaid’s Tale” in the library with no restriction and putting a warning in the English class syllabus. Tsichlis was the only no vote on each of the committee’s three recommendations, which were voted on via voice vote.

“That seems like a contradiction,” Tsichlis said. “On one hand, we’re providing parents with some level of oversight, and then on the other hand, the book is available to any student at any time.”

Chief Academic Officer Tara Sparks, who reported the committee’s  findings at the meeting, said the discrepancy was due to the capacity the book is offered. In class it is being shown directly to students and in the library it is a student’s choice with no school direction.

Both books were called into question by parents for “pornography” and “sexualization of minors,” which the committee felt both books were lacking. According to the official committee report, while the books do contain “graphic sex scenes,” they are not meant to “excite or arouse the reader,” which is what the Supreme Court has dubbed the difference between sex scenes and pornography.

In “The Handmaid’s Tale” specifically, most of the committee felt sexuality was presented as “dehumanizing and a form of societal control,” not arousing.

For “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel, the committee felt removal of the book would leave a vacuum in what it represents in the library — there are limited books of this type exploring the same topics of LGBT experiences. While some of the imagery is graphic, it “doesn’t detract from the overall story.”

The challenges and the committee recommendations were again the focus of public comment at the Dec. 16 board meeting, with both supporters and opponents of a ban in attendance. 

Citizens in opposition of the ban referenced a petition circulating in the Lindbergh community which now has over 800 signatures. The petition affirms “support of the district librarians and the equitable access of literature in schools.” The petition had 876 signatures at press time with a goal of reaching 1,000 signatures. 

Erin Suess, a Lindbergh alumna and parent, said the ban of the selected books would infringe on other parents’ rights to parent their children. 

“To paraphrase the old saying, your liberty to ban books ends where my kid’s nose begins,” Suess said. “It is my right and my duty to protect my child from what I think is offensive, but it is not my right and my duty to choose what’s right for yours.”

Despite committee findings, citizens in support of the book ban said retaining the books would “promote radicalization and sexualization of children.” 

“You knowingly limit our kid’s thought development, you alienate children from what their parents teach them and you show disdain for the Missouri constitutional purpose of public schools,” Marilee Sauer said. “Lindbergh’s problems are much greater than certain books, but it starts with this book vote.”

Prior to the meeting, the board held a workshop discussing and reviewing library policies. At the workshop, Karen Czaiki, Lindbergh’s library media specialist, said parents can request specific books to restrict their child from reading and the more specific the request the better.