Students Protest Removal of Books from Canby High School Library

Canby High School students on Wednesday voiced their opposition to recent action by the district to pull more than 35 books from library shelves, pending an in-depth review of the materials by a committee this summer.

Around 50 students participated in the protest during lunch Wednesday, carrying signs bearing slogans such as, “Educate Not Indoctrinate,” “I Have the Right to Read,” and “Trans Lives Are Not Pornographic.”

“I think it’s really important because books provide a lot of knowledge, and I don’t think that it’s fair to take away the students’ rights to read these books,” Canby High School senior Avery Keinonen said. “I think that everyone deserves the opportunity to read these books.”

Photos by Tyler Francke.

“A lot of the students here just don’t know what’s happening,” fellow senior Jason Hupp added. “They haven’t been given the information, and it’s been covered up. So our protest here is to raise awareness for these books that are being pulled off the shelf without their due process.”

The book removal requests, copies of which were provided to The Canby Current this week pursuant to a public records request, were submitted by two community members who cited sexual content, violence, profanity, drinking and drug use, promiscuity and nudity among the reasons for reconsideration.

The requests came in at different times starting on October 31, 2022, but the vast majority were submitted early last month. In almost every case, the two noted that they had not fully read the materials they were asking to be reconsidered, saying they had reviewed only portions of them or relied on online reviews.

Photos by Tyler Francke.

“I read a few pages and that was enough to know it should not be available in K-12 public school libraries,” district parent Nicole Cole said in her request for Milk and Honey, a book of poetry by Rupi Kaur, to be reviewed. “I don’t enjoy pornography, so I did not read the entire item. Adults can make that decision; minors should not!”

The list of removed books includes a popular fantasy series, books about young people about coping with sexual assault or drug addiction, or who identify as LGBTQ, and classic, award-winning novels, some of which have been on Canby High School’s shelves for decades.

The majority of titles requested for consideration came from a list of 31 books filed by district parent Lesley Paradis, who also submitted separate forms for two additional titles. Cole asked for six titles to be reviewed, four of which were duplicates of books submitted by Paradis.

Photos by Tyler Francke.

One additional title, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, was effectively removed from circulation last year by then-senior Marissa Depner, who checked it out from the Canby High School library and never returned it.

Depner told the Canby School Board earlier this month that she still had the book and would return it if requested.

“Upon extensive review of the attached books, I’ve found them to contain an extensive amount of explicitly mature sexual content, sexual violence, description of rape, incest and assault,” Paradis wrote. “Studies show exposure during adolescence to sexually explicit materials is associated to risky sexual behavior through adulthood. Studies also show exposure to sexual violence reduces empathy.”

Photos by Tyler Francke.

“Kids already cuss and know about sex,” Paradis wrote in her request for reconsideration of Heartstopper Vol. II by Alice Oseman, the only title she indicated she’d read in its entirety. “They do not need to be taught about it at school and to normalize it. They are minors. … This is not instructional. It’s purely pleasure.”

The Canby School District has policies in place allowing parents to contact librarians and restrict titles that their own children would be allowed to check out. Several students at Wednesday’s protest said they believed their rights and their parents’ rights were being overlooked.

“Parents are allowed to say that they want their students to have restricted access to certain books,” Keinonen said. “But I’m allowed to read these books. It doesn’t feel fair that they’re being taken away from me. There’s been an oversight in that line of policy, and these books need to have their day in court.”

Photos by Tyler Francke.

“The things that these books talk about are really important for high schoolers to understand,” Hupp agreed. “It’s about life experiences that are really hard for some people and taking these books off the shelves removes the idea of this experience and it leaves these people to suffer in silence about things they’re really not alone in.”

Hupp took particular issue with comments by school board members and community members at school board meetings describing the titles under review, many of which concern the experiences of LGBTQ youth, as “pornography.”

Photos by Tyler Francke.

“A large majority of them are being banned for their LGBTQ content,” Hupp said. “And several of the school board members have said that these books are all pornographic, and that’s simply not true. If any of them had read these books, they’d know that they’re more than the sexual assault that’s depicted.

“That’s not what being gay is about. It’s not what being trans about. They’re ignoring these identities for the sake of fear. They’re banning these books out of fear that their children will read them and become gay, which is just, you know, not how that works.”

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