Utah Suit Restores Access to In Our Mothers’ House
By Beverly Goldberg
As of January 14, elementary-school students in the Davis (Utah) School District were once again free to borrow the Patricia Polacco picture book In Our Mothers’ House, which district officials had ordered in May 2012 to be placed behind the circulation counter and made available only to youngsters who presented written parental permission for them to read it. The district’s change of heart toward the picture book—a multigenerational tale about the family life of a lesbian couple with three children, told in the voice of the oldest child—is a saga unto itself.
It all began in January 2012, when an unidentified parent of a Windridge Elementary School student filed a materials reconsideration request after her kindergartner brought the book home. The complainant objected to the book on the grounds that it “normalizes a lifestyle we don’t agree with.” After the Windridge School Library Media Committee voted to move the book from the Easy Reading section to Fiction, which is designed for 3rd–6th graders, the parent, along with 23 others, appealed to school-district officials. A seven-member District Reconsideration Committee voted 6–1 on May 8 to restrict access after committee member Michelle Beus, the district’s legal issues specialist, cited a 2004 state law, Civic and Character Education in Schools (PDF file), which prohibits “the advocacy of homosexuality” in curriculum materials.
Within a few weeks, district officials were asking school librarians to identify other gay-positive children’s books in their collections. “It’s almost like they want to preemptively pull books that might disturb somebody,” DaNae Leu, a media specialist at the Snow Horse Elementary School, said in the June 1, 2012, Salt Lake Tribune. “I feel like Joe McCarthy is asking me to name names.”
Over the summer, the ACLU and the National Coalition Against Censorship sent a series of letters urging school officials to revisit their decision. The lack of progress prompted Tina Weber, the mother of three Davis School District students to file a First Amendment lawsuit in November seeking to end the restrictions. “Our job as parents is to make sure we teach our children about our values,” Weber stated. “We can do that without imposing our personal views on the rest of the school community.”
As part of preparing a formal response to the lawsuit, which has since been settled, the Utah Attorney General’s Office had advised Pamela S. Park, assistant superintendent for curriculum at the Davis School District, to review the grounds upon which the District Reconsideration Committee had approved the restriction. Park rejected the committee’s argument that the picture book violated Utah’s prohibition on “the advocacy of homosexuality” in curriculum materials since it “has never been recommended or used as instructional material.” In a January 11 letter ordering the book’s reinstatement, Park also wrote that she supported several favorable conclusions drawn by committee members about the title, including: “The book could help prevent bullying of kids from same sex families” and “This book teaches acceptance and tolerance.”
“I am happy that all parents will now have the chance to make their own decisions about their own children,” Weber said January 31.
“It is bigoted to reject these books just because some parents can’t tolerate differences,” Patricia Sarles, school librarian for the College of Staten Island (N.Y.) High School for International Studies, told American Libraries. Creator of booksforkidsingayfamilies.blogspot.com, Sarles said that making gay-themed books available to children “is no more about promoting an agenda than depicting a kid in a yarmulke or a kid on crutches is about promoting an agenda.”
American Libraries, Wed, 03/06/2013 - 13:20