Missouri Schools Ban Over 300 Books Since August

A new state law banning "explicit" material in schools blocked graphic novel adaptions of the Gettysburg Address and Batman

click to enlarge Several Missouri school districts have removed a variety of books and graphic novels from their libraries in response to a new state law. - FLICKR / NIKLAS MORBERG
Several Missouri school districts have removed a variety of books and graphic novels from their libraries in response to a new state law.

Missouri schools have banned nearly 300 books after a new state law banned school personnel from providing sexually explicit material to students, a nonprofit organization reported this week.

PEN America reports that at least 11 Missouri school districts yanked books off their shelves in response to the new law. Banned material include works on Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, graphic novel adaptations of works by Shakespeare and Mark Twain, the Gettysburg Address and Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel.

The book bans followed the passage of SB 775, which took effect in August. The law makes it a class-A misdemeanor to provide “explicit sexual material” to students, whether those images derive from books, magazines, videos or online content. Any school official found in violation of the law could face a punishment of up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Although the law makes some exceptions for works of artistic or anthropological significance, schools have nevertheless banned 297 since August.

One of the most bizarre twists in all of this — most of the districts reported to have banned books reside in the most liberal-leaning areas of the state. Nearly all the districts with banned books are in the Kansas City or St. Louis areas.

One district, Wentzville School District, reportedly pulled more than 200 books. The district made national headlines in January when its school board agreed to yank Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from library shelves, though the district reversed its decision a month later after facing uproar.

Other book-banning districts include Lindbergh, Kirkwood, Independence, Rockwood, Webster Groves, Ritenour, among others.

In addition to books, some districts have banned comics and graphic works. According to PEN, selections include: Batman, X-Men and Watchmen; The Complete Guide to Drawing and Painting by Reader’s Digest; Women, a book of photos by photographer Annie Leibovitz; and The Children’s Bible.

“Even amid an avalanche of book bans this fall, the removals in Missouri stand out,” Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs for PEN, said in a statement. “These districts — and likely others — have deputized themselves censors, sweeping up in a dragnet all manner of educational materials often with little documented justification.”

PEN America, along with over 20 renowned illustrators and authors including Margaret Atwood, Lois Lowry and Art Spiegelman, joined forces Wednesday to denounce Missouri’s new law.

In an open letter to Missouri school boards and districts, the artists protested Missouri’s “sweeping” book ban.

“Such overzealous book banning is going to do more harm than good," they wrote. "Book bans limit opportunities for students to see themselves in literature and to build empathy for experiences different from their own.”

Coming soon: Riverfront Times Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting St. Louis stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.

Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter