Keeping the Books in Kent School District

We are very happy to share news from Gavin Downing, the school librarian fighting to retain LGBTQ+ books for his students in the Kent School District outside of Seattle, that the school board has finally voted to keep the books on the shelves. It's an important win for student access and the First Amendment in that district and a key campaign against book bans and materials challenges in Washington state.

We were proud to work to support Gavin's defense of his students' right to read. Starting in February, EveryLibrary hosted and amplified a petition to the school board called "Kent School District Must Follow Policies to Protect Students" demanding that they follow policies and retain the books. Nearly 400 people in town and around the area took immediate action. Our staff repeatedly met with local activists and stakeholders to help them set up a strategy to hold the school board and administration accountable and fight against this problem. As the school librarian, Gavin was responsible for sharing why these titles belong in the library - despite some folks being uncomfortable or even hostile to the themes and stories. He did award-winning work describing why these kinds of books matter. 

Read the February 4, 2022 story in the Spokesman-Review about this effort to ban the book started

Now that the school board has made its decision, Gavin asked that we share a statement with you. Whether if you signed the petition or just stand with school and public libraries for access, the freedom to read, and student rights, it is a powerful message. 

I am truly relieved that the Kent School Board made the decision to reverse the Instructional Materials Committee's decision to ban the book Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts) from Kent School District middle schools. After the multitude of ways in which procedure was not followed, it was a relief for the board to affirm the rights of students. This book gets to remain on the shelf where it can be available for those students who need a book like it.

I am so thankful for every single person who spoke up about this issue. When this began, I was told explicitly that no one would support me on this issue, and while I didn't believe that, it was a relief to prove them wrong. People cared a great deal and support diverse voices in the library. Representation for LGBTQIA+ students is critical, and this book helps fill that role. We also knew that, if this book was challenged, there would be additional challenges to follow.  The board's decision to say no to censorship means that we are likely not to see a wave of book challenges in our district.
And this will save lives. We know that LGBTQ+ teen suicide rates are much higher than the rates of their peers, and things like a school library that represents them can help lower those rates.
But while this is an unqualified success, the fight is not over. Book challenges are on the rise across our country. If you're not local to the Kent School District, reach out to your local school district. Let them know what you think. Or consider running for a school board position, where you can help make these decisions. The forces of censorship are pushing very hard right now; we need to stand together and push back. Together, we can make a difference, as we did here.
Thank you. - Gavin Downing, July 2022
Our colleagues at the Washington Library Association, the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom, and a core group of local shareholders were active and focused allies as well. While we are involved in many other book ban situations, most are confidential. We appreciate Gavin inviting us to be involved from the beginning in this sensitive situation.

This problem is real and far-reaching. See Dr. Tasslyn Magnusson's expansive tracking dataset of book bans and challenges across the United States for up-to-the-minute information and insights. 

EveryLibrary, through our Save School Librarians digital advocacy site and on-the-ground training, coaching and guidance are ready to help other school librarians and school stakeholder groups who are facing highly politicized book bans and challenges to policies. Our donors make all of our work possible, especially the capacity-building support we receive for this site from Follett School Solutions. If you would like to support our campaigns to ensure that every student has the right to learn, read, and see their stories reflected in their school library, please become a donor today
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