Open Letter to Utah’s Murray City School District Officials
Murray City School District
5102 S Commerce Drive
Murray, UT 84107
To the officials of the Murray City School District,
We are writing to express our concerns regarding your reported decision to suspend and review the program of “equity book bundles,” designed to introduce young minds to diverse authors and inclusive literature. As an organization committed to upholding the rights of readers and writers, and to resisting book banning in our nation’s schools, we urge you to rescind this unnecessary review and misguided suspension immediately.
As we understand the chain of events, this review and suspension was initiated after a group of parents expressed outrage that a teacher read Call Me Max, a book about a transgender child, to a third grade class at Horizon Elementary. In the wake of this reaction, the district apparently saw fit to suspend its “equity book bundles” program, which is primarily focused on introducing students to issues of race and racism and featuring authors of color, and to implement a review of that program.
District spokesman Doug Perry has reportedly stated that other books by Black authors and about people of color will remain on the shelves for teachers to use or students to read. Nonetheless, the decision to implement such a broad-scale review of diverse books, on the heels of parent complaints over one book in particular, appears to us as misguided, censorious, and unnecessary.
Perry has also stated that reading Call Me Max was a “mistake” as the book was “not appropriate at the [third grade] level.” However, the author of Call Me Max, Kyle Lukoff, has indicated he wrote the book for a kindergarten to third grade audience.
We also note, with particular concern, the fact that Call Me Max is not even part of the equity book bundle program, making it especially unclear as to why the program was suspended at all. As you may be aware already, books written by or featuring people of color or LGBTQIA+ individuals are disproportionately likely to be challenged in schools and banned. As it stands, the district’s decision seems to indicate a belief or opinion that any and all diverse voices and experiences require an additional level of scrutiny by district officials—a notion which is inherently inequitable.
Further, the district’s decision is sure to send a chilling message to teachers to approach any books by diverse authors or about inclusive content with apprehension. That is no climate in which a teacher should operate.
We urge you to reverse this suspension and review process immediately, and to reinstate the “equity book bundles” program, for the benefit and dignity of teachers and students in your district alike.
Director of Free Expression and Education, PEN America
Co-chair, PEN America Children’s and Young Adult Book Committee