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Students sue Wentzville School District over book bans

Several books which have been challenged by parents based on their content are pictured on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End neighborhood.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Several books that have been challenged by parents in districts in the St. Louis region as of November are gathered at Left Bank Books in St. Louis’ Central West End.

Two students are suing the Wentzville School District after it removed multiple books from school libraries.

Last month, the district’s school board voted to remove "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison. The district has also temporarily removed many more books as part of its formal review process.

The ACLU of Missouri filed the suit in federal court on behalf of the students and their families, saying the students have “a First Amendment right to be free from official conduct that was intended to suppress the ideas and viewpoints expressed in the Banned Books.”

The class-action lawsuit alleges the district targeted books that represent viewpoints of authors or protagonists who are people of color or people who identify as LGBTQ.

A St. Louis Public Radio analysis of books being challenged in the region in November found that two-thirds were written by authors of color or authors who identify as LGBTQ. Many more formal attempts to remove books have been launched in local districts since then.

This is the first lawsuit of its kind from any ACLU affiliate nationally in the current wave of attempts to remove books from school libraries, said Tony Rothert, director of advocacy for the ACLU of Missouri.

“This just isn't any old book banning, as happens from time to time, where school districts disagree with the ideology of a book,” Rothert said. “Here Wentzville has targeted and removed books that are from the perspective and viewpoint of racial or sexual minorities.”

When someone requests that a book be removed from school libraries, school districts have formal processes in place to review the request. Many local districts leave books in libraries while they are being considered, but the Wentzville School District’s policy is to remove the books from circulation.

Rothert said this policy makes it too easy to remove books in the district.

“It's very easy for any person in the community to get any book removed for any reason, even if it's a discriminatory reason, by just filing a complaint,” Rothert said. “It automatically comes off the shelf. And that is exactly backwards.”

The plaintiffs in the suit are two students in the Wentzville district. They are identified by their initials because they are minors.

The Wentzville School District said it is aware that the lawsuit has been filed and declined to comment on it.

Follow Kate on Twitter: @KGrumke

Kate Grumke covers the environment, climate and agriculture for St. Louis Public Radio and Harvest Public Media.