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Oklahoma teacher resigns in protest of book censorship law

Books locked up
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An English teacher in Oklahoma has resigned rather than abide by censorship rules imposed by the state and her local school district.

Summer Boismier, who taught at Norman High School in the state until last week, told CNN that teachers in her district were asked to review materials in their personal classroom libraries before the start of the school year, to see if they complied with state new regulations under Oklahoma’s H.B. 1775, which bans teachers from discussing certain topics.

The law was purportedly passed to stop “critical race theory,” a nebulous expression used by the right to describe teaching about the history of racism in the U.S.

According to the new guidelines, if a teacher employs a curriculum which demonstrate “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” the educator could be suspended or have their license removed.

Boismier had over 500 books in her classroom library. Teachers were asked to box up the books they felt could be at issue, or turn them around so their spines faced inward. Administrators also suggested using butcher paper to cover them up.

Boismier complied and took it one step forward.

She covered the books and labeled the shrouded library “Books the State Doesn’t Want You to Read.” A prominent QR code linked to the Brooklyn Library’s Books Unbanned program, which offers students age 13 to 21 a free e-library card to access books banned in libraries across the U.S.

A label by the code read: “Definitely don’t scan!”

According to a statement from district officials, a parent contacted the school to complain. Boismier says she was placed on administrative leave and told not to return the following Monday.

“The concern centered on a Norman Public Schools teacher who, during class time, made personal, political statements and used their classroom to make a political display expressing those opinions,” officials said.

“Like many educators, the teacher has concerns regarding censorship and book removal by the Oklahoma state legislature. However, as educators it is our goal to teach students to think critically, not to tell them what to think,” the statement said.

Bossimer denied her actions were a “political stunt.” “I want to be clear. I was told to cover my books.”

Officials said they expected Boismier to return to class Wednesday, and that she wasn’t fired, suspended or put on administrative leave.

“But, unfortunately, we understand the teacher has publicly expressed their intent to resign,” the district said.

“The state doesn’t want you to have access to these texts, these texts that center LGBTQ+ perspectives, that center BIPOC perspectives, which I believe absolutely 1,000 percent deserve a place in our reading lists, in individual curricula, that should be centered and protected, because they have historically been erased,” Boismier said.

“Me commenting on the climate of censorship and the chilling implications of a rejection of free speech and free association – me commenting on that is absolutely a political choice. I stand by that.”

The new law, Boismier said, is “intentionally designed to stifle the conversations that we need to be having in the classroom, around systemic inequality, around privilege. It’s my desire and the top objective that I have as an educator, to make my classroom as inclusive as possible.”

Boismier doubts she’ll relocate to another Oklahoma school district, which are all covered by the new state guidelines.

“There’s a difference,” Boismier said, “between political and partisan.”

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