Spotsylvania County

ACLU Urges Spotsylvania School Board to Override Superintendent's Book Removals

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The ACLU wants a Virginia school board to override a superintendent’s decision to remove certain books from high school library shelves, suggesting it’s against the law.

Last month, Spotsylvania County Public Schools superintendent Mark Taylor ordered high school librarians to clear the shelves of 14 titles, and more books have been pulled since. 

The books were challenged by a parent concerned they contained sexually explicit content.

Book review committees took a closer look and voted all of them should stay.

“All came to a conclusion that, at least at a high-school level, these books were appropriate to be in those schools,” said Jeff Kent, a book review committee member. 

Taylor decided to remove them anyway, telling parents a new Virginia law requires schools to notify parents if instructional materials contain sexually explicit content. He says it would be impossible to notify parents of sexual content in hundreds of library books.

The ACLU says Taylor is misinterpreting state law and violating the Constitution. In a letter to the Spotsylvania County School Board, the civil liberties organization says the state law is meant to apply to classroom materials, not library books. 

“It’s not supposed to be construed as requiring or providing for the censoring of books in public elementary and secondary schools, and yet that’s exactly the outcome the superintendent seems to want here,” said Matt Callahan of ACLU of Virginia. 

The ACLU also says pulling books already on library shelves is outright censorship, a violation of the First Amendment. 

“The First Amendment forbids public schools and public libraries from removing books that already present on the shelves on the basis of a viewpoint that they express, so to the extent these books are being removed for viewpoint discriminatory reasons, it’s a violation of the Constitution and First Amendment,” Callahan said. 

A statement from Taylor reads, in part, “I am a big proponent of civil liberties. I am particularly concerned about the civil liberties of parents and their right to choose whether or not their children are exposed to sexually explicit materials in contravention of Virginia law. SCPS is following state law and standing up for parental rights.” 

School administrators also are revising the book review challenge policy and plan to present it to the school board next month.

News4 asked for the number of book titles that have been removed and is awaiting an answer. 

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