Oklahoma Becomes Latest State Seeking to Pass Book Banning Legislation

Part of the Children Book Collection at the University of Oklahoma Bizzell Library. Photo provided by University of Oklahoma.

Part of the Children Book Collection at the University of Oklahoma Bizzell Library. Photo provided by University of Oklahoma.

Beck Connelley

When Kyle Reynolds, superintendent of Woodward Public Schools saw that the book Fahrenheit 451 was on a list of books under review by the Oklahoma Attorney General, he thought “There’s Irony in That.” 

Fahrenheit 451, a novel by Ray Bradbury about books being outlawed and burned in a futuristic American society, was one of 51 books on a list being reviewed by Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor and his office. Although O’Connor eventually retraced his evaluation of the books, the announcement still sent ripples throughout the school system of Oklahoma.

Reynolds, who has been superintendent for 8 years, and employed by the district for 27, said that certain pieces of literature, including works by his personal hero Maya Angelou “can either reflect the society that it’s in or give us perspective and hindsight for past societies and how things were.”

While the idea of restricting literature seems to be a partisan issue, Reynolds says some of the books on the list were reviewed and approved by his media specialists, whose choices he described as pretty conservative.

“My media specialists are all very active in their churches, Southern Baptists, First United Methodist. And so I’m pretty confident that their selections and choices for libraries are probably going to be pretty conservative… I trust mine (media specialists) to make sure that we’ve got appropriate content on our shelves.”

In Bixby, a suburb of Tusla, the public school district received a request last November to remove a book from its libraries. This was the first request the district had received in over 10 years in more than 10 years. A parent sought to remove two John Green books: “13 Reasons Why” and “Earl and The Dying Girl” from the high school’s shelves. These books, which feature some profanity, contain themes regarding sexuality, death, suicide. 

Bixby Public Schools Superintendent Rob Miller said once the request was received, district policy called for a committee review. 

“That committee consists of three administrators, two teachers, two parents, and a media specialist who are assigned to read those books, and then meet and discuss that complaint, and make a decision as to whether or not those books remain on the shelf or should be removed. But it is a committee process.” 

The committee voted unanimously to keep the two books on the shelves, and the parent appealed to the board of education. The special board meeting took place on Feb. 16 and ended with a vote that kept both books on Bixby’s shelves. 

“The parent and the district both had an opportunity to argue on behalf of their points of view, and then the board voted 5-0 for “13 Reasons Why” and 3-2 on “Me and Earl,” to keep both books in circulation,” Miller said.

Senate Bill 1142, authored by State Sen. Rob Standridge, seeks to remove or restrict certain books from public schools and public charter schools. When the bill was introduced on Dec. 16, Standridge clarified what type of books he wanted to restrict.

“Senate Bill 1142 prohibits public school districts, public charter schools, and public school libraries from having or promoting books that address the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity, gender identity, or books that contain content of a sexual nature that a reasonable parent or legal guardian would want to know about or approve of before their child was exposed to it,” the bill reads.

While some opponents have called it an attempt to ban books, Standridge said the bill is not about banning. 

It is not banning like what is being done to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Dr. Suess,” and other books where protesters actually destroy their ability to publish is banning. S.B. 1142 is about empowering parents to guard their children in one single location, the public school library, while all parents are free to get any sort of book for their child at a public library, bookstore or the internet”, said Standridge.

The bill was co-authored by state senators Joe Newhouse and Mark Allen. It was advanced by the Senate Education Committee on March 1 and co-authored the next day by principal house author, Rep. Justin Humphrey.  

Since then, the bill has been co-authored by seven state senators, with the most recent being Sen. Roland Pederson on March 21. Despite that apparent support, the bill did not receive a senate floor hearing by Thursday and probably dead for this session.


Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.