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Only small group of parents utilizing new law to help ban books in Utah school libraries

FILE - Books in Alpine School District (Photo: Brian Morris/ KUTV)
FILE - Books in Alpine School District (Photo: Brian Morris/ KUTV)
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In the last legislative session, proponents of Utah House Bill 374 argued passionately that Utah school libraries were inundated with unsuitable reading materials.

Parents, most of them associated with the group Utah Parents United, were at nearly every hearing for the bill that would codify in law, the banning of inappropriate material on Utah school shelves.

The bill has been law for several months now, and Crisis In The Classroom wanted to find out how many books have been removed or restricted from Utah school library shelves, and who has complained about them.

Using public records requests and a report from the Utah State Board of Education, we discovered that a little more than three dozen parents across the state have lodged complaints.

In one school district, Granite, a West Valley City couple was behind nearly every complaint filed with the district. Of the 205 filings, Nick and Hailey Foster were behind 199 of them.

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“It's shocking that these books even made it through the front door,” said Nick Foster.

The couple said they cross-referenced books found in every Granite school library with a Facebook page called Laverna’s Library. The administrators of the page have a list of books they find objectionable. The page has been widely circulated by members of UPU.

2News asked the couple why they should have such sway over which books are pulled from Utah school libraries.

“We would actually encourage parents to put in their input whether it's agreement with us or disagreement with us,” said Nick Foster.

Outside of Granite, only 35 parents have filed complaints against books, most of them in Davis County where UPU is headquartered.

Of those complaints, Brooke Stephens, the curriculum director for UPU, tells 2News she has personally filed 27 challenges to books on Davis County school library shelves.

Hailey Anderson, who lives in Salt Lake City and is a member of the book review committee at her children’s school, says so far there have been no complaints against books at her school. However, she is concerned that the parents filing complaints have so much power over what her child could potentially find in the library.

“So, if their parent doesn’t want that child to read a certain book, they should tell them that they can't read that book, they shouldn't make it so no other child has access to read that book either,” Anderson said.

Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) sponsored HB374. He says it doesn’t matter which parents, or how many have complained about books, what should be the focus he said is what they are complaining about.

"We've been conditioned to find someone and caricature them and then maybe diminish what the issue is," Ivory said. "We need to focus on the issue. Are there indecent and pornographic materials in school?"

Peter Bromberg with the organization Every Library, a national group who lobbies for libraries, said polls by his group indicate that most Americans overwhelmingly oppose banning books.

“There are very few people who are commanding a lot of attention around this and it's not reflective of the values of Utah parents or Americans,” Bromberg said.

Regardless of the polls, the effort by the Fosters and other parents have been successful. Among them they’ve managed to get at least 150 books removed or restricted from school shelves.

Hailey Foster said she’s surprised she is the only parent in Granite who had been active in filing complaints about books.

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“You know, it has been shocking, and I think that has been surprising to me. All I can say is that parents are just unaware,” Foster said.

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