This is how the book bans in Nampa, Idaho came about

Just 20 miles outside of Boise, Nampa, Idaho might not seem like a place where most books are banned in the state, but thanks to one parent, it’s become the bleeding edge of a national movement to curb literature in schools.

But at a time when school board meetings are besieged by parents over curriculum concerns and vocal politicians are calling for teacher reviews, the Nampa School District allowed just one parent to dictate which books should be removed from its libraries, a single investigation conducted to 24 books removed.

Nampa is just one of many cities across the country that have found themselves caught up in a war on books. But his story is a microcosm of how outspoken parents and ill-informed school officials can rein in students’ reading with almost no effort.

According to Pen America, 2,532 books were banned last school year, removing 1,648 individual titles from library shelves. Book bans have affected at least 138 school districts in 32 states, leaving nearly 4 million students without access to these books.

The book ban trend really started to take off in January after a Tennessee school district banned the graphic novel Mouse. It has since become national news, with almost every month a different school district announcing that it is scrutinizing the books in its libraries.

According to Pen American, nonprofits and parent groups pushing for certain books to be banned are a major factor in the rise in book bans. One of the most prolific organizations is Moms for Liberty, a national organization with over 200 chapters across the country.

Idaho is responsible for banning 26 titles, and the Nampa School District personally banned 24. But it wasn’t a coordinated group. It all came at the behest of a woman, and families wondered how anyone could remove so many books from their children’s libraries.

The Daily Dot obtained records from the Nampa School District that included hundreds of pages of emails from conversations that led to the decision to remove the books and emails from the parents after the shocking decision.

In December 2021, Tosha Sweeney emailed the Nampa School Board requesting the removal of 24 “pornographic” books.

His subject line? “Obscene Books.”

In Sweeney’s first email to the school district, she argued that many of the books covered topics such as sexual assault and suicide and that reading the books would be traumatic for students.

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“If a child gets their hands on one of these books that has a history with even one of these subjects, you are exposing them to their trauma again,” she wrote.

She called the books pornography and also claimed that the books would lead to an increase in sexual assault, as she said sex offenders used pornography to “plan their assaults.”

Sweeney argued that for school libraries to bear these titles is not only morally wrong, but also illegal under Idaho statute section 18-1515, which states that an individual is guilty of “distributing material harmful to minors.” is when she knowingly borrows material that contains detailed sexual descriptions for underage children.

Sweeney did not respond to inquiries from the Daily Dot.

The 24 books Sweeney challenged were all young adult books and many contained LBGTQ+ characters and themes.

Eight of the books on Sweeney’s list also appeared on Pen America’s list of the most banned books of the 2021-2022 school year. Special From the darkness by Ashley Hope Perez, The bluest eye by Tony Morrison lawnboy by Jonathan Evison, The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, crank by Ellen Hopkins, kite runner by Khaled Hosseini, l8r, g8r by Lauren Myracle and Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher. The full list is here.

Collectively, these titles were banned in 115 school districts.

Many of these books feature LBGTQ+ characters and themes. From the darkness includes themes of race and love across segregation. The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie deals with themes such as racism, identity and grief. Almost all of these books are in the young adult genre and tell coming-of-age stories of characters who grapple with their race, sexual identity, and their identity in the world.

According to Pen America, the campaign to ban these books is “driven in part by politics, with state legislatures and executive branch officials pushing for bans in some cases.”

In October 2021, a Republican state representative, Matt Krause, sent a list to various school districts in Texas asking them to remove 850 books from their libraries. These books were all about issues and race and sexual identity.

Most campaigns to ban books have been spearheaded by conservative parents concerned about allegedly sexual content in their children’s libraries. A Georgia mother caused a scene at her local school board meeting after reading graphic excerpts from books found in the school library. Michelle Brown told Fox News that she loves “living in a conservative town” but that she worries about the school district’s curriculum.

In a city of over 100,000 people and so many votes, you wouldn’t expect a single email from a single parent to result in 24 books being removed from the entire school district.

And yet the Nampa school board removed all of the books from Sweeney’s hit list without completing a formal review.

Prior to Sweeney’s complaint, no books had been banned in the Nampa School District. Almost immediately thereafter, a committee was formed to review the books on Sweeney’s list.

The committee began with eight of the books and was due to review more after completing the first eight. Sweeney was offered a seat on the committee, although her intentions were already clear. However, the planned review was never completed, and the books were scrapped.

Kathleen Tuck, director of communications and community relations for the Nampa School District, confirmed to the Daily Dot that the school board decided to ban all 24 titles without the committee completing their review.

According to Idaho News 6, at the school board meeting in May that voted to ban the books, the board said “the list was discussed at length during a board working session and was previously reviewed by an internal committee.”

The vote was 3-2 in favor of the ban. One participant called for the books to be removed without review, fearing that leaving books in libraries while reviews continued “would traumatize a child for life”.

At the meeting, Sweeny spoke, playing on the current panic about the care. “Exposing children to pornographic material is a tactic used by carers [and] kidnappers,” she said.

Sweeney admitted that the books she was upset about required parental consent to be borrowed, but she was concerned that children might read them in the library without checking them out and that they would therefore have to be removed entirely.

The books were officially banned on May 9th. The next day, Laurie Maughan, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, emailed Nampa librarians, urging them to box up the banned books and send them to the district warehouse.

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After the books were banned, emails flooded in from parents thanking the board for their decision and parents condemning the board for the removal.

“The children need the love and support of adults and need to be properly guided,” a parishioner sent to the board. “I applaud you for sticking to proper reading material for our children. Please continue to remove inappropriate teaching from schools.”

When the books were banned, Aadika Singh, the ACLU’s Idaho legal director, emailed the superintendent saying the organization was “deeply concerned” by the decision to remove the 24 books. Singh argued that the school violated the First Amendment by failing to conduct an impartial review of the books.

Longtime residents of Nampa expressed their disappointment to the board. “My wife and I are embarrassed that you have banned several popular books,” Jimmie Brown wrote to the board. “We cannot understand your point of view as this appears to be a political decision that had nothing to do with education.”

A parent emailed the district to express how “appalled” he was at the ban on the books. “The more I learn about the situation, the more frightening it becomes. Allowing a person to challenge these books and then ban them forever without proper evaluation is ridiculous.”

Sweeney is one of many mothers across the country who are demanding that books about race, gender and identity be removed from library shelves in the name of protecting their children. Pen America estimates that 20% of the books banned last school year were caused by complaints from conservative groups and parents at school board meetings.

A disgruntled parent emailed the district to ask the school board a question.

“Have any of you read any of the books on the list?” they wrote.

The answer according to records is not many.


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Jaclyn Diaz

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