Tulsa Public Schools removes graphic books from library

July 28, 2022 GMT

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Officials at Tulsa Public Schools said Thursday they removed two sexually graphic books from school libraries following criticism from several elected leaders amid a renewed conservative interest in public education as a political issue.

“When we were made aware of two books with inappropriate images, we immediately asked the secondary schools that had them to remove them from their libraries,” the district said in a statement. “When school resumes, we will follow our process and more carefully review books in question. We are also working to understand the selection process used and will modify as needed.”

The state’s education secretary, Ryan Walters, a Republican who is running to be the state superintendent of public instruction, said that when he posted images from the books “Gender Queer” and “Flamer” on his Facebook page, the company quickly censored his post.

“I posted some pictures of some of the inappropriate sexual material Tulsa Public Schools has in their library, and within minutes Facebook has blocked me and shut down my post,” Walters said in a video he posted on Twitter. “It’s really a sad day when woke Facebook has higher standards than (Superintendent) Debra Gist at Tulsa Public Schools.”

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Among the drawings in the books are scenes depicting masturbation and gay sex.

Walters, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat were among those who criticized the district for making the books available to students.

The push to remove objectionable books from school libraries is part of a renewed conservative interest in public education as a political issue since the start of the pandemic. Parents who first packed school board meetings to express their opposition to mask mandates and other COVID-19 measures have since broadened their focus to other issues they say clash with conservative values, including teachings about social justice, gender, race and history.

Over the past year, book challenges and bans have reached levels not seen in decades, according to officials at the American Library Association, the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) and other advocates for free expression.

Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma introduced bills this year to expand the list of books prohibited in school libraries and to allow parents to review their children’s library records, but those measures didn’t pass.

Also on Thursday, the state Board of Education voted 4-2 to give the Tulsa and Mustang public school districts accreditation with a warning for allegedly violating a new state law that prohibits the teaching of certain concepts regarding race and racism. Among the concepts that are prohibited are that individuals, by virtue of race or gender, are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.

An investigation by the state Department of Education determined that the two districts violated the law. The violation in Tulsa allegedly occurred during implicit bias training provided by a third-party vendor.

Tulsa Public Schools disputed the allegation in a statement.

“In this training, it is clear there is no statement or sentiment pronounced that people are racist — due to their race or any other factor,” it said. “We would never support such a training.”