June elections are behind us and the legislative session is drawing to a close. Around the state and in Augusta, many people have spoken with their votes in favor of our students’ freedom to read. Legislators in Augusta voted against proposed laws, LD 123, LD 1008, and LD 618, which would have restricted students’ and parents’ rights and limited access to many books and topics. Many school board candidates who ran against the freedom to read were defeated.
We encourage you to take a look at the roll calls for LD 123 and LD 1008 (618 did not make it out of committee) and send a quick email to your legislator either thanking them for voting against the bills or expressing your disappointment if they voted in favor. Find your legislators’ names here for the Senate and here for the House. Both types of emails are hugely important and have a big impact, so thank you for doing that!
Despite this positive news, we still face many challenges across the state. Some very unsupportive school board and town candidates were still elected. In some districts, administrators are considering or have decided to require parental permission for students to read certain books. Please reach out to us for support if these discussions are happening in your district.
While requiring parental permission for students to read certain books may seem like a compromise, it is really book rating which we know violates the freedom to read (and with the defeat of LD1008, it's not even supported by our legislators). Below are some points to remember and emphasize with your administrators.
Requiring parental permission for students to read certain books…
Requires that someone make a value judgment about the content of the book that will not be objective and imposes one person’s values on those of all of the students in the school.
Red flagging books for content that is "controversial" or "objectionable" or otherwise designating it as something negative hurts the kids whose lives, experiences, and identities are reflected in those books.
Removing the books from the stacks and putting them in a separate area is limiting access to them which is simply censorship.
This idea is impractical: which books will be okay to have in the stacks and which will be removed? How do you define "sexual content"? What about biology books? How graphic is "too graphic"? Who gets to decide? Why?
Our experience with book banning in Maine has shown that the books most frequently targeted feature LGBTQ+ characters; LGBTQ+ students are the most at risk for mental health problems and such books can help them by affirming their identities but this would keep them from freely accessing them.
We already have effective local policies in place for parents to object to books, this is an unnecessary step to take.
MASL feels strongly that requiring parental permission to access libraries in any way is not a compromise, but actually an attempt to circumvent existing policies and the rights of the majority of readers in a community. We urge you to stay vigilant and strong in spite of these efforts and encourage you to share our Position Statement on the Freedom to Read from January, co-authored by MASL and MCELA, and sent to all administrators in Maine as well.