In October, a few school board members in Gilbert, AZ attracted national attention when they voted 3-2 to yank two pages from an honors Biology textbook. Their reasoning? The pages dared to mention contraception, the morning after pill, and mifepristone – allegedly in violation of a two-year-old state law forbidding schools from providing “any instruction that does not give preference, encouragement and support to childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.”
Following the October decision, the board stalled on making any formal decisions on how to redact the offending pages. Would the school have to take black markers and cross out the passages? Or would they have to rip out the pages, one by one? (Any solution to this professed problem was labor-intensive.)
Thankfully, redaction is off the table after the most recent board meeting. Last night, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto argued that it’d be better to have teachers provide supplemental information to students rather than to suppress those pages outright. After hearing her case, other board members agreed to pursue alternatives to redaction. Those alternatives will be discussed in early 2015. (As a note, the November elections altered the Board’s composition, introducing a moderate majority who will assume power in January.)
The censorious push began in August, when a parent in the district contacted Alliance Defending Freedom – a conservative religious group based in the state – for their help. After this, an attorney representing ADF, Natalie Decker, sent a letter to the Board outlining the apparent violations of SB 1009 by those two pages of Campbell Biology: Concepts & Connections, also presenting ADF’s concerns at the October board meeting.
The Board received pushback from the Arizona Department of Education and the ACLU of AZ, both of whom wrote to Gilbert explaining why the redaction would introduce more problems than solutions. Chris Kotterman, representing the former, claimed that the factual statements contained in the textbooks didn’t introduce bias toward abortion. Alessandra Soler of the ACLU, on the other hand, illuminated the First Amendment repercussions of the removal of the pages. No matter – the Board still voted 3-2 to take the pages out, creating a maelstrom of discontent within the district.
After the vote, Kishimoto rightly argued that censoring the content would merely increase interest in the pages, causing students to independently seek out information. As NCAC pointed out earlier this month in a letter to Indian River School District in DE, depriving students of educational guidance in matters of sexual education can pose significant health risks. Kishimoto’s resolve resulted in last night’s positive development. We admire her for demonstrating a willingness to stand firm by students’ right to access educational material.