A new Missouri law has made it a misdemeanor for a school employee to provide “explicit sexual material” to minors, which could come with up to a year in jail and $2000 in fines. The law applies to images only, such as in graphic novels, and does not apply to material with “serious artistic significance,” “anthropological significance,” or material used in science and sexual education classes.
The law went into effect August 28th, and there have already been dozens of books removed from schools — including titles that likely do not violate the law. After years of increased book bans and challenges, as well as accusations of being “groomers,” many school districts seem to be erring on the side of caution.
For example, Rockwood library has removed 22 titles, including several sexual education books. The law says that books used in sex ed classes are exempt, but does not mention sex ed books that are stocked in the library but not used in class.
It’s worth noting that this law applies to all public schools, all the way to grade twelve. There is no distinction made between what may be appropriate for a five-year-old versus an eighteen-year-old. Some of the books removed include The Handmaid’s Tale (Graphic Novel) by Margaret Atwood, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, and Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki.
Gender Queer had recently been challenged in Rockwood, but the book committee found it did not meet the definition of pornography, because its purpose isn’t for sexual arousal. The graphic memoir is primarily about the author exploring eir gender identity as well as coming out as asexual.
St. Charles County’s police department has released a statement that they will “redirect any concerns related to academic curriculum and library book content to the citizen’s respective school district for review.”
Considering that there is already existing systems to challenge books considered inappropriate — and considering that school library books are brought in by professionals who have a depth of knowledge in what is appropriate for their school community — this law does not serve any purpose except as a scare tactic. Unfortunately, that tactic is succeeding in many districts who don’t want to chance being charged for having the wrong comic on their shelves (or library app).