Howard County’s school board has historically refused to entertain a campaign to get certain books off the shelves. But could this election flip the script?

Maryland’s recently passed Freedom To Read Act, created in response to such attempts, set standards that books on the shelves in public and school libraries cannot be removed because of an author’s background.

However, Moms for Liberty, a conservative parents group, has challenged books in local schools because they deemed the reading material “sexually explicit” — an allowable reason to take books off shelves.

After seeing their counterpart successfully challenge school library books in Carroll County, the Howard County chapter of Moms for Liberty sought to do the same this winter and faced a well-attended protest in opposition.

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Howard voters in three council districts go to the polls on May 14 to decide which two school board candidates will advance to the November election. The elected board members could influence whether Howard County schools stick to their books policies or change them.

Here’s where they stand:

Against book removal campaigns

Howard school board candidates who are strongly against the campaign to remove books from school library shelves are:

All of these candidates, whether in The Banner’s Voter Guide or in a recent League of Women Voters of Howard County forum, clearly stated they will not entertain a book ban campaign in Howard County Public Schools.

A few have said they support the school system’s existing policy on selecting books and reviewing challenged titles. A committee of at least 11 members, ranging from students and parents to school system employees, reviews books upon request.

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Chamblee said, “I would like to see that robust process stay in place.”

Carter, a former teacher, added, “This process involves professional librarians, educators, and community stakeholders who carefully evaluate books for their academic worth and suitability for students.”

In favor of book removal campaigns

Trent Kittleman (District 5) did not take a clear stance on school library books in responses to The Baltimore Banner or at a recent candidate forum, but she’s shown support for Moms for Liberty and book challenges in the past.

In an August 2023 blog post, Kittleman wrote: “Here’s a simple idea: if a book contains images too “graphic” to be shown in public — even at a School Board meeting — it shouldn’t be in a school library.”

She then shared scanned images of pages from the books “Gender Queer: A Memoir” and “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health.”

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At the recent League of Women Voters candidate forum, Kittleman referenced recent public testimony at the April 11 school board meeting where Moms For Liberty members read passages from “Jack of Hearts (and other parts),” “Shine,” “The Bluest Eye,” “House of Earth and Blood,” “What Girls Are Made Of,” and “Gender Queer.”

About the testimonies, Kittleman said, “I think that everybody might want to see what is actually in some of the books that are being discussed.”

Kittleman has also featured an advertisement for the Howard County chapter of Mom for Liberty events on her personal website.

An unclear position

Andre Gao (District 1) has given vague answers to questions about his stance on school library books.

Gao said there is a limited number of books that school libraries can hold. And so, “we need to select material carefully.”

“So in my view we don’t need to say we are banning any book, we just need to select the best book for our student in our school library. And that, of course, we should not have any political or ideological issue involved in there,” he said.

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