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Menomonee Falls School District removing more than 30 book titles from high school library

Banned books chosen for 'sexually explicit' content

Banned books are visible at the Central Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system.
Banned books are visible at the Central Library, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library system, in New York City on Thursday, July 7, 2022. The books are banned in several public schools and libraries in the U.S., but young people can read digital versions from anywhere through the library. Ted Shaffrey/AP Photo

Starting Friday, the students at Menomonee Falls High School won’t have access to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” or Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And they won’t read Rupi Kaur’s poems in “The Sun and Her Flowers.”

Those books and 30 others will be pulled from the shelves tomorrow after administrators in the School District of Menomonee Falls have deemed them too “sexually explicit” for students. The decision is the latest in the battle over books and free speech taking place across Wisconsin and the nation.

While several of the books chosen to be removed from Menomonee Falls High School are on the Advanced Placement English Literature reading list, Superintendent David Muñoz said the 33 books being removed from circulation are not in compliance with the “sexually explicit content and/or profanity guidelines” set in school policy.

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Those policies and guidelines are based on age and grade appropriateness with specific focus on limiting or excluding materials with sexual content and profanity, Muñoz said in a statement. The policy was updated in April 2023.

Some of the other books being pulled from the school’s library include:

  • “The Bluest Eye,” Toni Morrison
  • “Lucky,” Alice Sebold
  • “Nineteen Minutes,” Jodi Picoult
  • “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Stephen Chbosky
  • “Jesus Land: A Memoir,” Julia Scheeres

The community advocacy group, Grassroots of Menomonee Falls Area learned about the book ban earlier in the week when students who had the books checked out from the library were asked to return the materials by the end of the week.

“It’s just another blatant attempt to take resources and material out of the hands of students,” said Andrew Guss, co-leader of Grassroots of Menomonee Falls Area. “We’ve circumvented the policies we have in place for book reviews.”

Previously, per school board policy, “challenged” books would be reviewed by the Menomonee Falls High School library media specialist, an administrator, a “reconsideration committee” and finally the superintendent before going back into circulation.

Muñoz’s statement says these 33 books were reviewed.

Grassroots Menomonee Falls Area released a statement saying all decisions to remove books from the school library should be made transparently and using the established policy.

“The organization calls on the Menomonee Falls School District to engage in open dialogue with all stakeholders, including teachers, librarians, and the wider community and follow the policies to fidelity within the School District of Menomonee Falls,” the group wrote.

The country started to see a surge in effort to ban books in schools and public libraries in 2021, particularly with restrictions to books containing LGBTQ+ and racial content. That effort has continued.

There were 1,477 instances of books banned across the country in the first half of the 2022-23 school year, according to the nonprofit PEN America. Of those, 30 percent were about race, racism or featured a person of color. Twenty-five percent had LGBTQ+ characters or themes.

In June, Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that would target “obscene” materials in Wisconsin school libraries and overturn a law that protects public and private school employees from prosecution for distributing the materials.