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Educators prevent book bans in two NY districts


ccording to the American Library Association, book bans are at an all-time high. For those who think it couldn’t happen in their community, meet Emilie Bastian, librarian at Clyde-Savannah Junior/Senior High and Kelly O’Brien-Yetto, an English teacher at Galway Junior/Senior High School.

Bastian had been a teacher in the Clyde-Savannah English department for more than 20 years before she became a school librarian. In 2022, she filled a post that had stood empty for many years and took on the difficult job of reviving the secondary school’s dormant library program.

“The library was in pretty significant disarray, and I was trying to fix it up,” said Bastian. “It had not been weeded in some time, there was a lot of older materials. I ordered new books and reconfigured the space.” She also drafted a guidebook to help the district deal with book challenges, based on existing school policies.

It was a project that would prove to be quite prescient.

two young women talk while standing near a college promotion table in the Clyde-Savannah library
The revamped Clyde-Savannah library space hosts college fairs and other events.

In spring of 2023, a community member of a small church in Clyde, who does not have children in the district, attended two school board meetings to demand that five books be removed from library shelves on the grounds that they were “pornographic.”

As per the district’s procedure, the pastor’s challenges had to be submitted in writing and reviewed by a six-member Library Materials Review Committee. After carefully examining the objections against the material, and the material itself, the committee recommended that the materials remain on the shelves.

The pastor appealed to the board of education which voted to go against the committee’s recommendations, choosing instead to side with the pastor and ban the books from the library.

“We didn’t really know what to do at that point to return the books, so I spoke to our NYSUT labor relations specialist, Jon Hickey.” NYSUT agreed to assist. Attorneys from NYSUT’s Office of General Counsel worked closely with Bastian and Hickey to draft an appeal to the Commissioner of Education. The board of education was served with the appeal on Sept. 8, 2023. At their meeting on Sept. 13, 2023, the board voted again, this time to restore the books.

A similar issue occurred in Galway, a tiny rural community just 25 miles west of Saratoga Springs.

“I’ve been teaching for over 10 years, so although I knew it was coming, it was still a little unsettling,” said English teacher Kelly O’Brien-Yetto, a member of the Galway Teachers Association.

librarian Emilie Bastian wears a black and patterened blouse and a black sweater, looking at the camera with a serious expression while sitting at a faculty desk

Andrew Watson

Clyde-Savannah Junior/Senior High School librarian Emilie Bastian takes pride in making sure the library is a welcoming space for all students.
In the spring of 2023, two parents complained that books O’Brien-Yetto had chosen for her ninth and 10th graders were “inappropriate.”

“One of the policies that we have relied heavily on in this process of having our books challenged is the selection policy that the board put together for us to follow” said Melanie McDonald, chair of the English department and past president of the Galway TA.

“Teachers really care deeply about our students, and we care deeply about our curriculum. Nobody gets into this for the glamour or the money,” said O’Brien-Yetto. “We want to be sensitive, but we are really thoughtful about our choices. There is a reason behind the inclusion of our materials, and it is to help students embrace the world that exists today and the world that will exist tomorrow.”

When the Galway complaints were brought, the district followed a strict procedure laid out for book challenges. First, they were submitted in writing to the superintendent, who referred them to the Instructional Material Review Committee. The committee investigated the books, and recommended the complaints be dismissed. Ultimately, the complainants appealed their case to the Galway Board of Education; board members initially were split on the issue, and then voted 6-1 to keep the books.

In both cases, the educators were relieved that students’ intellectual freedoms were upheld.

“Censorship is a way for people to control other people,” Bastian said. “Nobody should be able to tell someone what they should think.”

O’Brien-Yetto agrees. “I think that when we limit ideas and contents for students, we are limiting their world,” she said. “We are not being authentic about the way that the world is, and we are making it harder for them to adjust to a world beyond the bubble that they have in high school.”

NYSUT United features book recommendations from librarians and other educators in the “Check it Out” column. This year, we will focus on books that have been banned or faced challenges. Send your submissions to nysut.org/books.