January 23, 2023
The ACLU and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) today sent a letter urging Massachusetts public school districts to protect students’ legal rights by rejecting censorship in school libraries. The letter is in response to a rise in calls by a vocal minority in the Commonwealth for schools to remove library books from their shelves, as efforts to ban books and pass classroom censorship bills proliferate nationwide.
The vast majority of book bans that are taking hold across the country specifically aim to remove books that are by and about LGBTQ people, communities of color, and other marginalized groups. According to the ACLU and GLAD letter, censoring books that focus on the experiences of historically marginalized communities is inconsistent with Massachusetts students’ rights to equality in education.
“Across the country, there is a coordinated attack on students’ right to learn,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Book bans in school and public libraries—places that are central to our abilities to explore ideas, encounter new perspectives, and learn to think for ourselves—are misguided attempts to try to suppress that right. We applaud the communities that have resisted such attempts in Massachusetts and call on schools to protect all children’s access to an equal and safe education.”
The letter warns that removing books from school libraries may violate students’ rights to an unbiased education, as well as their free speech rights which include a right to receive a range of information. Based on these principles, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the free speech rights of students are violated when a local school board removes books “from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.”
“We are witnessing an organized, targeted campaign across the country to ban books centered on people of color and LGBTQ+ people and it is students who are being harmed,” said Mary L. Bonauto, Senior Director of Civil Rights and Legal Strategies at GLAD. “Parents and school officials in many communities have come together to resist these censorship efforts because they understand access to a diversity of books and ideas is fundamental to growth and learning. Our laws protect students’ rights to access books in which they can both see themselves and their families reflected and can engage with different perspectives and different people in the world around them, and our communities are all better off for it.”
The letter was sent to the Massachusetts Associations of School Superintendents and School Committees, as well as state education officials and individual superintendents throughout the state.