We fact-checked Oklahoma’s book-banning controversy
Editor’s note: Sept. 18-24 is Banned Books Week, with events nationwide protesting censorship.
An Oklahoma teacher attracted national media attention and is out of the classroom after sharing a library QR code with students. And there have been reports of some Oklahoma school districts yanking classic titles from library shelves. Book challenges are on the rise across the nation. The American Library Association recorded 1,597 book challenges or removals in 2021, the most since the organization began tracking attempts to ban books more than 20 years ago.
House Bill 1775, which limits what can be taught in Oklahoma classrooms about race and sex, has further fueled controversy in the state. Norman Public Schools directed teachers to review every book available in their classrooms ahead of the school year following punishments handed down to Tulsa and Mustang public schools for reported violations of the law.
We fact-checked some of recent Oklahoma news stories about book bans and found news reports that lacked nuance and context, or contained factual errors. Statements by public officials have sometimes repeated inaccurate information.
Claim: Oklahoma school districts have banned many classic books by Black authors.
Source: The nonprofit PEN America, which tracks restrictions on books in school libraries and classrooms, found 42 titles, including eight by Black authors, that have been banned in at least one Oklahoma school district, Newsweek reported.
Fact Check: True but misleading
PEN America defines a “ban” as any book that has been moved from the reading list from one age group to another or if it is taken out of circulation while under review. Many of the books are still accessible to students in schools.
Edmond Public Schools, which faced scrutiny after its inclusion on the PEN America list, “does not ban books,” said Susan Parks-Schlepp, a spokeswoman for the district. The district added 35 new texts to its curriculum in 2021, causing changes to the required reading lists for some age groups, Parks-Schlepp said. Some required reading was moved to different age categories or only required to be partially read and some books are no longer required but are still available in school libraries.
Bristow Public Schools, which also came under fire, said in a statement that “no book has ever been banned.” The district said it is “in compliance with Oklahoma law that requires materials be age-appropriate for the particular students served and that classroom libraries be based on the combined enrollment and standards for the highest grade unit served.”
In January, Bristow schools did remove eight books from circulation after a review of 47 titles, the district said.
Claim: A Norman teacher was fired for sharing the QR code to access banned books from a library in Brooklyn.
Source: The TV station Fox 25 reported that Norman High School English teacher Summer Boismier had “been removed from her classroom after providing students with a QR code link for access to free e-books.” Some on social media said that Boismier had been fired. The information was repeated in news stories that appeared in national media. Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters also stated that Boismier had been fired in a letter to the State Board of Education calling for the state to revoke her teaching certification.
Fact check: False
Boismier was not fired after sharing a library QR code or talking about herpersonal opinions, said Wes Moody, director of communications for Norman Public Schools.
Norman Public Schools received a complaint after the first day of school that Boismier had “used her classroom to make a political display expressing her own opinions,” Norman Superintendent Nick Migliorino said in a letter to district staff and families. The initial complaint was not about the QR code, but that Boismier had made derogatory comments about state lawmakers, the district said.
Boismier “chose to resign,” and was never fired, suspended or placed on administrative leave, the district said in a statement.
Boismier told The Oklahoman that she resigned because she “couldn’t promise the district” she wouldn’t make political statements again.
Claim: Boismier may have violated House Bill 1775.
Source: A group of 14 Republican lawmakers called for an investigation into whether Boismier violated a state law that restricts teachings on race and gender. “I am a walking HB 1775 violation,” Boismier said in a TV interview.
Fact check: Mixed
HB 1775 includes broad restrictions on school curriculum, including a ban on any teaching that makes students feel discomfort or guilt about their race or sex. But it’s unproven that Bosmier violated any portion of the law. The initial complaint against Boismier was about the teacher making political statements in the classroom, although one parent said she was concerned about students gaining access to “pornographic material.”
Migliorino said in a public letter that there “was no violation” of HB 1775.
True: A claim that is backed up by factual evidence
Mostly true: A claim that is mostly true but also contains some inaccurate details
Mixed: A claim that contains a combination of accurate and inaccurate or unproven information
True but misleading: A claim that is factually true but omits critical details or context
Mostly false: A claim that is mostly false but also contains some accurate details
False: A claim that has no basis in fact
The Frontier is a nonprofit newsroom that produces fearless journalism with impact in Oklahoma. Read more at www.readfrontier.org.