House panel asks school officials about book removal process

DES MOINES — The debate over removing books from public school libraries and curriculum continues at the Iowa Capitol.

The House Oversight Committee held a hearing last night to quiz superintendents and school board presidents from six districts about the process for handling complaints. Republican Representative Phil Thompson of Boone questioned why the graphic novel “Gender Queer” remains in a West Des Moines school library.

“There’s obscenity in the book and I think that’s really, honestly where you can look and say: ‘That isn’t age appropriate,’” Thompson said.

West Des Moines School Board president Jeff Hicks said taken as a whole, the 265-page book has literary value. “You can’t take one picture, one image out of context and say the entire thing is obscene,” he said.

Lisa Bartusek, executive director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, said when parents or district residents raise questions about books in the school library or that are to be read for a class, her association has a framework school boards may use that follows state law and Supreme Court opinions. “As I’m sure you’ve heard, defining what communities want, parents don’t always agree on what we want for our kids,” Bartusek said, “and it’s hard work.”

Two weeks ago, five members of a group called Moms for Liberty told members of the House Oversight Committee the school book review process is too slow and there are dozens of inappropriate books that should be removed from Iowa schools. On Monday afternoon, House Democrats hosted a forum for parents and students who object to what they call book banning. Rebeka Schurz, junior at Carlisle High School, said she’s a more informed and empathetic person after reading one of the books Moms for Liberty wants removed from school libraries. “Our narrow minded politicians and intolerant groups like Moms for Liberty should not be controlling what I and my peers can and cannot read, what we can and cannot learn and, most importantly, what we can and cannot be,” she said.

Last night’s House Oversight Committee hearing ended abruptly after a partisan squabble and officials from one of the six schools called to testify were never questioned.