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Brookings community repels book challenge at school board meeting


Brookings is facing calls to reassess what is available to students in libraries. But a strong turnout at a recent school board meeting may have nipped the issue in the bud.

The website, which lists books the group wants considered for removal from school libraries, initially sparked debate in the community.

Books like 'To Kill a Mockingbird', 'Speak', and 'The Handmaids Tale' are on the chopping block, according to the website.

The site doesn’t mince words about its partisan goals. One section directly references the “Republican Party platform.”

Rick Weidle, a member of the group who spoke at the meeting, said the goal of the website was to “raise awareness” of this issue.

Brookings resident Bob Burns, who previously served as president of the school board in the 1970s, said this is an imported national issue that needs a local solution.

“The question is to what degree do we allow parents, particularly parents who may even be outside of the district, to dictate the making of policy within our district," Burns said. "And to what degree do we allow a minority of parents within our district to dictate the policy?”

Community members who spoke at the meeting were largely against the removal of books from school libraries. Doug Murano owns Bad Hand Books in Brookings. He brought his copy – and interpretation - of Stephen King’s "IT" to the meeting.

“The evil that slumbers in good, small communities – little towns with names like Derry, Maine or Brookings, South Dakota – wakes up at some point in each generation, and the first sign of it is often violence and hatred towards our most vulnerable and marginalized neighbors," Murano said. "It is a relevant lesson today. Despite what a number of those in attendance may insist, efforts to ban books do not protect our children. In fact, they’re aimed at pushing marginalized individuals further out.”

Rev. Larry Ort of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church said he sees a race to the bottom in academic freedom across the nation. He said don’t confuse passionately held religious beliefs as sound reasoning.

“Religious zeal often leads to very un-Christlike behavior," Rev. Ort said. "In so doing, they put themselves in God's rightful place – they idolize themselves and their actions. Good Christians are Christlike. With that in mind, the only institution which Jesus – a Jewish rabbi – attacked was the temple. Jesus did not employ political pressure to reform society. Jesus practiced acceptance and invitation – not compulsion or coercion.”

Superintendent Summer Schultz said no further book challenges will be accepted and that she would personally handle any appeals to allow librarians to return to their normal work.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering education, healthcare, arts and culture.