(NEW YORK)–The board of Utah’s Alpine School District, the state’s largest district, has backed away from its decision to remove 52 books from school libraries, a move that PEN America calls an important step in recognizing students’ free speech rights. At the same time, the district’s decision to impose temporary restrictions on the books still represents a harmful obstacle to students’ freedom to read.

The Alpine district’s ban, which first made news in July, affected noteworthy titles such as Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, Forever… by Judy Blume, and the 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. The books were selected for removal after an internal library audit determined that they contained “sensitive material” under a new law and did not have “literary merit.” Twenty-one of all titles singled out for removal (42%) featured LBGTQ+ characters or themes.

PEN America sounded the alarm about the district’s ban on these 52 books, calling the move a worrying escalation of educational censorship. But this week, the Alpine district’s board said that they will not be removing the 52 books from school libraries after all. For now, the board plans to temporarily restrict access to these books in certain areas of libraries, where parents can elect for their children to check them out and read them.

In response to this development, Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America, said: “At a board meeting this week, the Alpine School Board announced that they will not be removing the 52 books from their school libraries, in recognition of students’ free speech rights. For now, the Board will be ‘temporarily restricting’ the books in areas of libraries, where parents can elect to opt-in their children to read and take them out.

While this still constitutes a barrier to the books, and questions remain about how these particular books were evaluated for this restriction, the Board has taken a step in the right direction, recognizing students’ rights and the need to follow considered processes.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057