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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Charts: See which Mass. districts have banned books, what books are most common targets of challenges

Banned and challenged books in Massachusetts school districts include Woke: A Young Poet's Call to Justice, If I Ran The Zoo, Gender Queer, and All Boys Aren't Blue.Tanner Pearson for The Boston Globe

Dozens of Massachusetts parents and other community members have attempted to remove various books from classroom shelves, curriculums, and school libraries, including calling police to a middle school last month to investigate a complaint about “concerning illustrations” in a graphic novel about gender and sexual identity.

The Globe surveyed all 291 traditional public school districts in the state about book challenges they’ve received in the last five years and bans they’ve enacted during that time. Of those, at least five removed books. Only a handful of districts did not respond, including Manchester Essex Regional, Martha’s Vineyard, Medford, Rockland, Sudbury, and Wakefield.

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Here’s what the data show:

What books have parents and others attempted to remove?

School districts received challenges to at least 70 different books, Globe reporting shows, but a handful of books represent almost a third of those contested.

The frequently-challenged books mostly deal with gender and sexuality, and multiple are graphic novels that critics have called pornographic.

How have districts responded?

In most cases, districts reviewed complaints and opted not to make any changes, but there were a handful of exceptions. Ten districts said they either removed or restricted access to at least one book. Often, that meant moving the books to libraries geared toward older readers, but a couple of books were removed entirely.

The 10 districts that removed or restricted access to books are Abington, Ludlow, Marblehead, Medfield, Melrose, North Attleborough, Sandwich, Westwood, Wrentham, and Wilmington.


How do districts make these decisions?

Records obtained by the Globe show that in some cases, campus and district leaders respond to parental challenges on a case-by-case basis. But in recent years, many Massachusetts districts have also put formal policies in place to respond to challenges, sometimes following rancorous School Committee meetings about classroom materials.

The formal processes usually have the district or school leader appoint a review committee to assess the complaint and the district’s reasons for using the materials. But in many cases, the review processes have not seen any use, district leaders said.

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Christopher Huffaker can be reached at christopher.huffaker@globe.com. Follow him @huffakingit.