Weather Data Source: South Carolina Weather

Spartanburg School District Bans Books with Sexual Content

Book burning protest.

Spartanburg School District Bans Books with Sexual Content

Spartanburg County School District 1 in northern Spartanburg County has pulled dozens of books from its high school libraries after its school board passed a restrictive new content policy.

“They don’t gotta burn the books; they just remove ‘em.” And indeed, Spartanburg County School District 1’s school board has taken the Rage Against the Machine lyric as literal advice. The county’s northernmost school district, which spans Landrum, Campobello, and Inman, has pulled possibly dozens of titles from its two high school libraries after folks lined up before the school board last fall to complain about the dangers of reading books with sexual content.

Starr Drake Foster told the school board in October that she had two daughters in the school system and was “disgusted” by the library books with “sexual immorality” in them.

“The innocence of my children is what’s important to me,” Foster said. “I know they ultimately will make their own decisions, but why have books at their disposal that would only provoke curiosity?”

David Wilson, a District 1 resident without kids in the schools, asked the board for accountability for the school librarians.

“Our kids are in school to get an education, not to learn about sex, or how to become gay or how to cut their wrist,” he said. “This is in our library today.”

A month later, the board unanimously passed a new policy, IJL, that directs library and media specialists in the district to curate their collections with material that avoids vulgarity, profanity, and sexual content, among other criteria.

District spokeswoman Jada Tessnier said following the passage of the policy, the district administration presented library staff with a list of books to remove.

“The administration did instruct for those titles to be weeded as per the policy guidelines in IJL,” Tessnier told The Post and Courier.

But the policy gives librarians and media specialists the responsibility to organize their collections under the new guidelines, and Tessnier said some books may have been removed that weren’t part of the administration’s list.

Tessnier couldn’t immediately provide the list, but The Post and Courier filed a records request for it. Tessnier said the district would provide it.

Book Bans in Spartanburg

Among the titles that appear to have been removed from Chapman and Landrum high school libraries are “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel “Slaughterhouse-Five.” Remaining in the district’s libraries are literature guides and critical praise that discuss those titles.

“So you can go into the library and read why it’s an important book but you can’t actually access the book itself,” said Tessie Holliday of Free to Read Spartanburg County, an advocacy group that’s been critical of the new policy.

Not everyone in District 1 supported the move. Parent Bailey Israel asked board members to be “sensible,” and not adopt “hard-line” policies.

“Allowing individuals that are not experts in the field of education to drive curriculum changes is foolish and irresponsible,” Israel said. “Book censorship does not do anything but limit our children’s exposure to learning and development.”

Book Bans on the Rise

District 1’s removals aren’t unique in South Carolina. Beaufort County Schools removed almost 100 books in 2022. Horry County Schools banned more than a dozen. And the Greenville County Library System has restricted access to books with LGBTQ themes.

The Spartanburg book removal comes at a time when book ban activity in school districts has been speeding up, according to the nonprofit PEN America, an organization dedicated to free expression. The group, which tracks book bans using public data, news reports, and school district websites, found more than 4,000 instances of book bans in the first half of the 2023-24 school year. That’s more than double the number of bans the group identified in the prior school year.

Tamara Cox, president of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians, pointed out that high-quality library programs positively impact student achievement and graduation rates.

“The surge in book bans and accompanying threats to librarians risk taking away these benefits for South Carolina’s children,” Cox said in an email. “It is more important than ever that we all speak up for school libraries.”

How it happened

The prologue of the District 1 push to ban books began two years ago in the summer of 2022. That’s when a grandparent in the district approached school board member Debbie Baker with a list of books and asked her if they were in the district’s school libraries, Baker wrote in a July 2023 Facebook post. And they were.

So, Baker wrote, a district committee reviewed the books and recommended that they stay on the shelves. Following the recommendation, the school board voted to allow parents to fill out an opt-out form if they didn’t want their children reading books containing certain content.

Baker declined to answer questions from the Post and Courier and referred a reporter to board chair Mark Rollins.

Rollins did not respond to requests for comment.

Giving parents control over what books their children could access wasn’t enough for Baker, who voted against the policy that passed in May 2023.

“I voted ‘no’ on the recommendation because I feel that these books are fundamentally harmful to children and should not be put back on the shelves,” Baker wrote in her Facebook post. She also provided a link to a Google drive with BookLooks reviews of 49 titles and notes describing which libraries the books were in.

More than 40 of the titles in Baker’s original list no longer appear when searched in the district’s online library catalog, although Tessnier said some of them could have been removed as part of normal content curation and not directly because of the policy. Most of the books Baker included in her list include some type of sexual content. Some discuss drug use, racial identity, sexual identity, or gender identity.

Holliday countered that those are topics that teens already deal with in their daily lives, and that it was important to see themselves reflected in literature.

“Reading things doesn’t make you do things,” Holliday said. “It can connect you with the experiences of others and make you understand the world and other people and yourself better. It’s not going to make you do something that you don’t want to do.”

On Nov. 13, former District 1 student Caleb Mickler walked up to the microphone during public comment in a last-ditch effort to convince the board not to finalize the new guidelines. The policy, he said, would take away the power of choice from the district’s students and their parents.

“If you are truly about freedom, student rights, and their parents, you wouldn’t implement a policy that takes that away,” he added.

Minutes later, with no discussion, the board did just that.

Follow Christian Boschult on Twitter at @ChrisHBoschult.

Spartanburg School District Bans Books with Sexual Content Spartanburg SC

Leave a Reply


Recent Posts

Featured Business

Featured Neighborhood

Sign up for our Newsletter

Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit