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Challenges to books put Nixa school board in national spotlight

 Nixa Public Schools' Faught Administration Building
Courtesy Nixa Public Schools
Nixa Public Schools' Faught Administration Building

In recent times, challenges to books in the school library have put the Nixa school board into the national spotlight — ahead of a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. June 20.

Update, 7:50 a.m., Tuesday, June 20:

Editor's note — This story was updated with a statement from the Nixa school district received shortly before this report aired at 7:31 a.m. Tuesday.

The Washington Post and The New Yorker have both covered struggles over book bans in the Ozarks recently.

Now a writers’ free-speech group in New York is weighing in ahead of a special meeting.

Tonight the Nixa school board will consider whether to remove or restrict seven books in the school library collection, a spokesperson says. Four of the books were already challenged, reviewed by a staff committee, and are now subject to an appeal to the school board.

PEN America is the human rights group speaking up this week. Their mission is to “celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.”

They interviewed author Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman’s book about the Nazi Holocaust titled “Maus” is being reviewed by Nixa school board members to see if it violates a Missouri law that prohibits “providing explicit sexual material to a student.” Spiegelman says book bans are part of some of the darkest episodes in human history.

“It’s something that needs to be fought against, it’s a very dangerous tendency,” Spiegelman told PEN.

Books being reviewed by the Nixa school board include "Blankets" by Craig Thompson, along with a graphic novel version of "The Handmaid’s Tale" by Margaret Atwood.

Nixa school district spokesperson Zac Rantz issued a statement regarding "Maus" early Tuesday that Ozarks Public Radio is reproducing in its entirety:

"'Maus' is pending review by the school district due to a recently passed Missouri state law making it a crime to provide materials of visual depiction of sexual act or genitalia to students. Any material that could potentially violate the law are being presented to the board. This new law is not limited to Nixa Public Schools. All Missouri public schools are subject to this review and taking action similar to our school district. These actions should not be viewed as an attempt to limit students’ access to information about the Holocaust or be viewed as antisemitic. The district does not tolerate hate speech of any kind and has the teaching of the Holocaust as a part of various classes. The material is being reviewed solely on the basis of the new state law in order to help protect the staff from legal action and place the decision on the board of education."

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.