SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The topic of book censorship has had the spotlight in South Dakota recently after the Rapid City Area School District pulled five books from an English 12 class.
Shari Theroux, president of the South Dakota Library Association as well as the systems and discovery librarian at SDSU, says challenges or bans to books in South Dakota in 2022 haven’t been common.
“What I know … of in South Dakota, is there hasn’t been a lot, that at least that has been reported to the South Dakota Library Association,” Theroux said.
Nancy Swenson, chair of the intellectual freedom committee with the South Dakota Library Association as well as technology services librarian with the Brookings Public Library, says there is a distinction between formal challenges and informal challenges: a formal one involves paperwork which brings it to a governing board, while an informal challenge may involve someone sharing their opinion.
“I think informal challenges are floating around out there, depending on the library and the staff and their population,” Swenson said. “Those aren’t necessarily reported to us, and then at this time we aren’t having a lot of formal challenges reported to us either, so I think it’s happening on a lower level, it’s just not escalating to the national level like some states are having.”
“In my opinion, I feel like if someone is mature enough to actually read and comprehend the material, to me it’s probably age-appropriate,” Theroux said. “Most libraries are really good about labeling things.”
Swenson and Theroux each bring up freedom when talking about book censorship.
“You have the freedom of speech, along with that you have the freedom to read and learn and take in information how you see fit to formulate that freedom of speech,” Swenson said.
“I just want people to keep in mind that it’s a freedom issue,” Theroux said. “It’s, people should have the right to choose what they want to read, but they shouldn’t be making choices for other people.”
Rapid City Area School District sent KELOLAND’s Dan Santella a statement on Tuesday attributed to the board. The statement says the five books were pulled because of “inappropriate, explicit sexual content.” Additionally, the statement says that attorneys are looking into the books’ content to see if they’re able to “be destroyed or sold to book buyers.”
The full statement reads as such:
On behalf of the Rapid City Board of Education we would like to provide the following information regarding the books that were slated to be destroyed. First and foremost, the decision to add any property to be destroyed, sold, or recycled including books, has never been a Board decision. Per the recommendation by the administration the list of supplies and equipment, (BOE May 3rd Agenda Item 9M, Surplus Property) was no longer considered necessary by the Rapid City Area Schools. It was recommended by the administration; the Board of Education declare by resolution that the supplies and the equipment on the list be surplus property.
These books were brought to the attention of the BOE when we received news outlet questions about them. This was not a demand from the Board of Education to get these books out of classrooms, it was a wise decision made by Principals and Administrators. According to the Director of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation, a committee of seven English teachers from the three high schools selected and approved twelve books for a new English 12 reading class. Five of those books were ones the Administration pulled due to inappropriate, explicit sexual content and added to the surplus property list. The professional judgment of the staff on district committees is trusted by the Board to be in the best interest of the greatest number of students and age appropriate, hence the course and books were approved last year. We are saddened to have this trust diminished by the decision to include these books in the recommended material.
According to district policy, if a student had the explicit pictures from one of the books on their computers it would be considered pornography and they would be subject to disciplinary action. It is concerning that staff would recommend this material for a reading class. One or more of these books likely violated Codified Law 22-24-27 and would be deemed “Harmful to Minors”. We have the district attorneys investigating the content of these books to determine if in fact they can be destroyed or sold to book buyers.
An investigation as to how the books were selected, vetted, and approved will be forthcoming. This will help the BOE find where oversight is missing. The BOE will be creating policy and procedure to address how books are chosen within the parameters of “Professional Judgement”.