The Hastings School Board spoke out on the actions of two board members removing books from the middle school book fair after community members and other board members raised concerns on book censorship.
While volunteering at the Hastings Middle School Scholastic book fair on Tuesday, board members Carrie Tate and Jessica Dressely took five books off the shelves that were recommended for ninth through 12th graders and contained a “mature content” warning.
This occurred after Tate had already expressed concern that two other books had this same “mature content” warning and high school level recommendation to the school board and PTA president.
According to Tate, after learning there was no process for vetting Scholastic’s books, she and the PTA president decided the best course of action was to set the high school level material in a box next to the register to for parents to purchase if they came to the book fair.
“The previous book fair chair was in the library, and she said that she has always done the same thing in previous book fairs,” Tate said. “She’s looked at the books to review and make sure they are age appropriate without these warnings.”
Concern for the board members’ actions blew up on Facebook Tuesday after a post on the situation was shared to the Hastings community Facebook page and garnered over 500 comments as of writing.
Board Vice Chair Stephanie Malm requested that the incident be discussed at the board meeting Wednesday night asking Tate, “How is this not one step to an agenda to book ban?”
Tate said the books she and Dressely removed from the shelves had “nothing to do with content, with morals, with values,” but only due to the high school level recommendation and mature content warning from Scholastic.
Malm said she was disappointed with Tate and Dressely’s actions as she felt it took away parental choice.
“We have heard over and over again about parental choice and allowing parents to make that choice based off of what they feel is appropriate for their children,” she said. “I feel like you violated that right of mine.”
Tate responded to Malm by saying, “We were not denying parents the ability to buy them, we put them in the box to prevent fifth through eighth graders from buying high school, mature content warned books.”
Board chair Brian Davis told the public that he wanted the board to clear the air so that they could move past the issue and work as a cohesive unit.
“We’ve got to get to a point where this isn’t the melodrama that everybody wants to see over anything that’s on television,” he said at the meeting.
Davis said he didn’t feel like Tate and Dressely’s actions were meant as censorship, but board members should have no part in deciding what books children should have access to at the book fair.
“[Tate and Dressely] did state that they are acting in their capacity as volunteer parents. However, it has been told to all board members the public does not recognize nor do they care if we are volunteers in certain capacities,” he said. “We are always board members in this community.”