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Federal judge keeps Wentzville book review policy in place

A Kindle reader shows the title page for Toni Morrison's novel The Bluest Eye. A notebook and two pencils are to its right.
Jonathan Ahl
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" was among the books temporarily removed from libraries in the Wentzville School District. It later was returned to library shelves.

A federal judge in St. Louis has declined to temporarily halt the Wentzville School District’s book review policy.

During the 2021-22 school year, the district temporarily removed eight books from the shelves of its school libraries because of challenges from parents. Librarians removed three of the books, including "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel, from shelves permanently after determining they were not age-appropriate. Two – "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison and "Gabi, a Girl in Pieces" by Isabel Quintero – were eventually returned to libraries. Three more, including Aziz Ansari’s "Modern Romance," are still under review.

The ACLU of Missouri sued on behalf of two Wentzville students in February, arguing the books had been challenged and removed solely because the main characters were members of various minority groups, including people of color and the LGBTQ community. U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp, a Trump appointee, disagreed.

“Plaintiffs have provided only rank suspicion to try to show that the District intended to deny students access to ideas with which the District disagreed, let alone that that intent was the decisive factor in decision,” he wrote in a 21-page opinion released Friday.

Tom Bastain, the ACLU’s communications director, said in a statement that the organization would continue to work to make sure that the First Amendment rights of Wentzville students are protected. A trial on whether to permanently ban the district from enforcing its policy is currently set for October 2023.

“Removing a book from a high school library greatly reduces equity in education by making it more difficult or impossible for students of marginalized communities to access the same information as students who come from privileged backgrounds,” he said.

The district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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