The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin announced last week that it had filed open records requests with six Wisconsin school districts regarding book bans.
In its Dec. 13 announcement, the state ACLU said it was seeking information on book bans in the Menomonee Falls, Howard-Suamico, Waukesha, Elmbrook, Elkhorn, and Kenosha Unified school districts.
The districts have made headlines in recent months for banning books.
This month, the Elkhorn Area School District temporarily removed 444 books from its library shelves after a parent asked that they be reviewed. The list of removed books includes “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie.
The district said the books were only temporarily removed based on district policy that allows parents to challenge library books, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Other districts had established book bans that were more than temporary and procedural, however.
In Kenosha, the school district banned four books earlier this year that focused on LGBTQ+ characters and themes, with at least one school board member claiming the books contained “pornographic material.”
The Menomonee Falls district banned 33 books in November on the grounds that they included sexual content and profanity, prompting author Jodi Picoult, whose book “Nineteen Minutes” was among the banned materials, to speak out on the X social media platform.
“Might it be that the books they are banning as pornography are not actually porn, and DO have literary merit? Might it be that they don’t want authors like me speaking out against their actions?” Picoult wrote in a Nov. 9 post.
Grassroots Menomonee Falls Area, an advocacy group that has been outspoken against book bans, joined the ACLU in its statement announcing the requests for information.
“At a time when the world is in turmoil, we have the opportunity to bring liberation and connection,” the group said. “There is freedom within libraries and public schools to be a sanctuary for diverse perspectives, expression, and healing. Banning books in our school district is akin to closing the door to understanding ourselves, each other, and the world. Grassroots Menomonee Falls Area stands with the professionals in our public schools and libraries in advocating for the rights of books to remain on the shelves for all to explore and guide us toward a future where knowledge and hope know no boundaries. Let every book be a beacon, not a forbidden fruit.”
In its announcement, the ACLU said that book bans have historically targeted underrepresented voices and groups.
“We are particularly troubled by the dangerous anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric accompanying much of the recent book-banning advocacy,” said Tim Muth, the interim legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Nationally, LGBTQ+ youth are far more likely to be bullied and harassed at school, alienated from their families and communities, and suffer from depression and suicidal ideation than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. For LGBTQ+ youth who are isolated at home, in school, or in their community, access to LGBTQ+ representation or information in books and literature can be a refuge — and, in some cases, life-saving.”
Muth said districts aren’t being forthcoming about their reasons for banning materials from the libraries: “Under the guise of protecting students from ‘inappropriate’ materials, school districts that remove books are violating students’ First Amendment rights to receive information from various viewpoints, even challenging perspectives and views that may not sit well with conservative majorities.”