Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in recent weeks on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021, in Salt Lake City. Credit: Rick Bowmer / AP

A number of statewide education organizations have signed on to a campaign defending intellectual freedom after one of the groups said school districts across Maine have come under fire for books in their libraries.

The Maine Department of Education, Maine School Boards Association, Maine Education Association, Maine School Superintendent Association, Maine Association for Middle Level Education and Maine Principals’ Association all signed onto Educate Maine’s “Intellectual Freedom” campaign.

Educate Maine is a statewide education organization that runs the state’s Teacher of the Year program.

“Many school districts in Maine and across the country are seeing a rise in book challenges of library and classroom books, leaving educators and administrators to ‘defend’ the books on the shelves,” Educate Maine said in a statement signed by the other groups.

It did not name specific districts or books.

While three Maine school officials said they haven’t received any such complaints, schools nationwide have been the target of a movement to challenge books that some parents deem offensive and want to see removed from their shelves. Most of the challenges come from conservatives targeting books about LGBTQ characters and other subjects that they deem too sexually graphic or inappropriate for children.

The American Library Association said it saw a “dramatic uptick” in book challenges and book removals across the country in 2021, mostly targeting books by Black or LGBTQ authors.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott directed state education officials to develop standards to block books that were pornographic or had “other obscene content” in them, pointing to two memoirs about LGBTQ people as examples.

Districts in Oklahoma, Georgia and Montana are considering removing or have removed books from school libraries. One Utah district removed nine books from its shelves, including Pulitzer winner Toni Morrison’s acclaimed book, “The Bluest Eye.”

Educate Maine said that such efforts give cover to people who want to merely ban books that promote viewpoints and experiences with which they don’t agree.

“These challenges are about more than the content of the texts; they are attempts to silence and erase the truths and humanity of the books’ characters and creators,” Educate Maine said in its statement.

Dolly Sullivan, Educate Maine’s program director, said she was proud of the work that Maine teachers such as Kelsey Stoyanova of Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden, who was named Maine’s Teacher of the Year for 2022, were doing to promote literature from a wide range of authors.

Sullivan, who lost her mother as a 13-year-old, said she would have benefited from a teacher recommending her books that showed her that her grief and anger weren’t unique.

“It’s important for people to see themselves in books, and for them to see other cultures and family dynamics,” Sullivan said. “It makes us better people.”

Educate Maine published infographics for school board members, principals, teachers, superintendents and librarians listing the policies and organizations that oversee the approval process for what books are allowed in school libraries.

Sullivan said that the infographics were meant to serve as a launching pad for conversations between educators and parents as to how certain books were chosen to be in their school libraries.

The Maine School Boards Association recommends that school districts have people with objections to specific titles fill out a form to officially register their complaint, after which the superintendent should appoint an ad hoc committee to consider it.

The book must be considered as a whole and not based on passages pulled out of context. The committee then writes a report with their recommendations for how to proceed, after which the superintendent presents it to the complainant, who can appeal it to the school committee. The offending book cannot be removed until a final decision is reached.

York Middle School received a complaint in November about a sexual education book from a person who doesn’t have children who attend York schools. School librarians and parents advocated for the book to remain on the school’s shelves.

Steven Bailey, the executive director of the Maine Schools Management Association, said he was not aware of any specific complaints against certain books in Maine school libraries.

Superintendent Gregg Palmer of the Brewer School Department and Principal Paul Butler of Bangor High School said that neither of them have received any complaints about the books their school libraries stock or about classroom curricula.

Palmer said his administration tries to have a conversation with parents about an offending book or material before it escalates to a formal complaint.

“If someone’s watching a film in English class that’s connected to a book, or they’re reading a book that someone is uncomfortable with, we always have provided alternative texts or alternatives to what the concern was for a family,” he said.


Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.