ACLU Sues School District Over Children's Library Book

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah is taking the Davis School District to court over a library book. The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of a Kaysville parent who says her children’s rights were violated when the school district decided to remove a book about lesbian mothers from the shelves of their elementary school’s library.

In Our Mothers’ House is a picture book written by Patricia Polacco about a lesbian couple raising three children. It’s listed for readers ages 6 and up, but at the Davis School District, it is only available to students who have a permission slip signed by a parent.  But, some say that’s not constitutional, so it will now be left up to a court to decide who will be able to check it out.

"We brought the lawsuit in Federal Court because it’s a federal question and we’ve asked the court to force the school to place the book back on the shelf and restore the students’ first amendment right," says John Mejia, legal director for the ACLU of Utah. He says the group has held several discussions about the book with the school district since the spring. That’s when a committee voted to keep the book behind the counter: "The attitude from the school district was we would need to agree to disagree, and you know from our perspective once it became clear that that was there position then it was clear that we should bring a lawsuit."

Chris Williams, Spokesman for the Davis County School District, says the district hasn’t yet been served with the lawsuit, but it continues to stand by its decision:

"We have a process in place. We followed that process which is outlined in school district policy and we still feel comfortable with the decision that was made, and again, parents still had the opportunity to let their children read the book if they wanted to do that."

Carol Lear is the director of school law and legislation and an attorney at the state office of education. She is not working on the case but offered some points she believes will have to be taken into consideration:

"Schools have greater authority to censor materials -- whether they're spoken or written or electronic -- than would be true in the general public. So a public library, there is almost zero censorship that is allowed; in a school library that is different and I think that scale would change between an elementary school and a high school."

Lear adds the case will also bring up what other books might be censored in the future.

"Are all books that are culturally uncomfortable going to be excluded? Polygamy is definitely part of our state's history and our cultural history. And are there children's books about polygamous families and children growing up in polygamy? And are those books going to be excluded to the same degree?"

The book was removed from four of the district’s libraries. The suit asks that the copies be returned to the shelves and that the court bar schools from censoring books based on an interpretation of homosexual topics. The plaintiffs are also asking for $1.00 in damages from the district.