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Edmond Public Schools challenges Oklahoma State Department of Education's attempted book ban

Edmond Public Schools administration building.
Edmond Public Schools
Edmond Public Schools administration building.

Edmond Public Schools is asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to intervene in an attempt by state officials to ban two books from school library shelves.

Edmond Superintendent Angela Grunewald said the Oklahoma State Department of Education ordered her district to remove “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini and “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls from high school libraries.

The agency threatened a potential downgrade to Edmond’s accreditation status if it doesn’t comply, Grunewald said.

The agency’s Library Media Review Committee decided both books are “pornographic” and contain “sexualized content,” according to the district’s legal complaint.

The same library review committee made national news last month when Chaya Raichik, who runs the controversial social media account Libs of TikTok, was appointed as a member.

Grunewald said none of Edmond’s school libraries contain pornography, but the books’ material isn’t the central issue of the district’s legal challenge.

“It’s not about the books,” she said in a news conference Tuesday. “It’s about who has the right to decide what books should be in a library and who can say what books should be removed.”

In ordering the removal, the state agency relied on new administrative rules passed last year that prohibit books from containing pornographic or sexualized content, Grunewald said.

The Edmond Board of Education voted Tuesday in favor of asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court to deem the state agency’s administrative rules an unconstitutional overreach of executive authority.

Edmond’s attorney, F. Andrew Fugitt, said he expects the Court to respond within 30 days.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters, who heads the agency, called the district’s legal filing an “ongoing subversion of accountability.”

“Edmond Public Schools not only allows kids to access porn in schools they are doubling down to keep pornography on the bookshelves,” Walters said in a statement. “Parents and kids should have the confidence of going to schools to learn. Instead of focusing on education, EPS has chosen to peddle porn and is leading the charge to undermine parents in Oklahoma.”

The state Education Department received five complaints about the books being part of the curriculum at Edmond high schools, Grunewald said. Parents already have a choice in which books their children read for high school classes, she said.

Although the complaints pertained to school lesson plans, Grunewald said the state’s Library Media Review Committee advised the books be removed from high school libraries, as well.

In a Jan. 19 letter, the state agency gave Edmond administrators 14 days to take the books off library shelves, according to Edmond’s legal filing. If they don’t comply, they will have to appear at Thursday’s state Board of Education meeting and risk an accreditation penalty.

The district has had a policy since 1997 for parents to request a book be reviewed and possibly removed. The decision of whether to keep the book is made at the local school level, Grunewald said.

Both award-winning bestsellers, The Kite Runner and The Glass Castle include references to child sexual abuse and violence.

The Kite Runner highlights the friendship between two boys amid a tumultuous period in Afghanistan. The Glass Castle tells the story of the author’s dysfunctional upbringing.

Scrutiny of school library books has heightened under state Superintendent Ryan Walters. He called for a content review of 190 books focused on LGBTQ+ perspectives and said some books are too explicit to belong in schools.

Walters’ administration created the new library content rules and brought them to the state Board of Education for a vote, despite the state Legislature not instructing him to do so.

For that reason, Attorney General Gentner Drummond issued an opinion in April stating the rules are invalid and cannot be enforced.

“It is well settled that an agency may only exercise the powers expressly given by statute,” Drummond said. “An agency cannot expand those powers by its own authority.”