December 4, 2023
ACLU-NH and GLAD Warn School Library Book Removals Would Violate Free Speech and N.H. Constitution
Criticize Department of Education suggestions of book banning, in letter to Commissioner Edelblut
Urge school superintendents in second open letter to resist unconstitutional calls to remove books from school libraries
View letters here
The ACLU of New Hampshire and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) today sent a letter to Frank Edelblut, the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE), warning that his department’s communications with the Dover School District are “alarming and extraordinary,” and that the DOE’s insinuations that the District should consider whether or not to ban two books as “developmentally inappropriate” could create First Amendment concerns if such a ban occurred.
Earlier this year, the Commissioner suggested that the Dover School District consider whether or not to ban the books Boy Toy and Gender Queer from its high school library on the basis of “developmental inappropriateness” (though Gender Queer was not actually available at that library). This suggestion came after the DOE released an unworkable, unclear, and overly broad “Objectionable Material Policy” in September 2023. The policy targets any material on “social” and “cultural” “perspectives on human sexuality,” which could result in the removal of a broad swath of books from the classroom, and in particular could target books referencing same-gender relationships.
“Any suggestion that books be banned frays the bonds of trust and cooperation among parents, schools, and students,” the two groups state in the letter. “They track politicized and partisan narratives in the larger culture, and regularly target books that discuss or depict the experiences and history of members of LGBTQ+ communities and/or communities of color. Concessions to these demands—including even moving requested titles to segregated locations or making them only available behind a librarian’s desk—undermine diversity and inclusion in our schools and raise serious legal questions.”
In the first two parts of the letter, ACLU-NH and GLAD raise concerns about the DOE’s “Objectionable Material Policy” and its correspondence with the Dover School District, laying out U.S. and state constitutional issues, and highlighting invalid and alarming segments of the DOE’s and Edelblut’s communications and policies.
The third part of the letter to the Commissioner serves as a right-to-know request to Commissioner Edelblut, requesting all documents and communications between the DOE and third parties (including school districts and parents) and internally at the DOE in several areas, including those pertaining to Gender Queer and Boy Toy, those pertaining to books that may be considered “developmentally inappropriate,” and those pertaining to the “Objectionable Material Policy.”
The two groups also sent a separate open letter to the superintendents of New Hampshire’s school districts, urging them to take a stand against censorship and protect student access to an equal and safe environment by resisting calls to remove books from school libraries.
“We applaud the New Hampshire schools and communities that have resisted these demands, have stood with students who deserve to have their experiences represented, and have preserved our National tradition of libraries as places for all young people to learn, imagine, grow, and explore,” ACLU-NH and GLAD wrote to the superintendents. “For those who may be considering future challenges, we urge such districts, in light of the issues detailed below, to reject these politicized efforts and allow age-appropriate and enriching reading materials to remain accessible on library shelves.”
The letter explains how students having access to these books not only helps educate all students about the experiences of others, but also creates a more inclusive and supportive environment for students whose history and experiences are reflected. For example, 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. Similarly, the removal of books documenting the experiences of people of color exacerbates the unacceptable situation in which students of color are already disproportionately subject to ostracism, and it deprives them of the right to an equal educational experience. Removing books that reflect students’ experiences not only removes a form of support, but it also tells a student that they and their community are not accepted by their teachers and peers.