Bloomington high school students form club to oppose book banning

As book bans and challenges continue to ramp up around the country, there are dueling efforts from parents and community members in Bloomington Public Schools to ban and keep books in school libraries.

At Bloomington's Jefferson and Kennedy high schools, a new club called "Bloomington Freedom to Read" was formed this school year. The club, which currently has 25 students and counting, was formed in direct response to efforts underway to ban books from the school district.

"Our school libraries are literally under siege," said Kate Bovin, a Bloomington student and co-founder of Bloomington Freedom to Read.

A few months ago, a petition began circulating to remove "sexually explicit books" from elementary, middle, and high school libraries. The petition, which has been shared by a group called the Bloomington Parents Alliance, mentions the books meant for younger grades have a "concerning emphasis" on transgender people and transitioning.

"The entirety of the books in middle school and elementary school feature transgender characters," Bovin said. "I am transgender. And so for me, that kind of is a really dark idea that like simply my existence inside of an elementary school is some sort of thing that needs to be removed."

The Bloomington Parents Alliance did not respond to FOX 9’s request for comment. When reached by phone, the petition's creator, Kris Seitz, hung up on FOX 9. However, she spoke during a school board listening session on Oct. 9.

"Kindergarten books label children as ‘transgender’ and quickly escalate to discuss puberty blockers, breast binding, gender surgeries, and how to hide web searches from parents," Seitz said during the listening session.

A spokesperson for Bloomington Public Schools said the school board and the school district have received numerous emails and letters on both sides of the issue, along with the online petition. Since the beginning of the school year, 74 speakers, including six students, have addressed the board on the topic of questioned materials.

District officials said they’ve received a statement of concern forms, which are required in order for the district to respond to concerns about educational materials, about 31 book titles.

A total of 28 different books are specifically mentioned in the petition, including some current New York Times bestsellers and "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe, which the Carver County Library Board voted to keep on its shelves in September amid calls to ban it.

A different group of Bloomington parents has also been organizing under the name "Ban Hate Not Books Bloomington" to defend the books. The parents argue that their children should be exposed to a wide variety of stories and characters.

"These books should be included in our school libraries for anyone who wants to choose them," said Anita Smithson, an organizer for Ban Hate Not Books Bloomington. "It's not just about books. It is about erasure of people and ideas and concepts that some don't want to face."

Because of the large number of challenged books in several school libraries, school district officials said they are forming a building review committee for each level (elementary, middle, and high school) consisting of a teacher, media director, citizen/parent, and a school principal. After each committee has concluded its review, the principal of each school will review the committee's findings. The district’s assistant superintendent will then inform the citizens of the committee's findings.