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Billings public schools board opts not to ban book from school libraries

Jessie Browning with Moms for Liberty speaks in front the Billings public schools board.
Kayla Desroches
Yellowstone Public Radio
Jessie Browning with Moms for Liberty speaks in front the Billings public schools board.

The Billings public schools board voted 5 to 4 Monday night not to remove a graphic novel from school libraries.

Under discussion was a Japanese science fiction book for young adults, Assassination Classroom Volume 1. It’s about an octopus alien posing as a teacher, and students who he challenges to kill him before he destroys the earth.

Supporters of a ban say the book incites violence against teachers. Opponents of a ban say removal sets a precedent for future censorship.

The majority of roughly four dozen commenters at the school board meeting Monday night defended the book, including West High librarian Alice Asleson.

“Choosing to ban Assassination Classroom will open the door to a wave of book challenges that will threaten our children’s first amendment rights and waste everybody’s time,” said Asleson. “Today, I ask that you take this decision seriously, considering the views of all the people that you represent rather than caving to a small and vocal few.”

A challenge last year against the book kicked off consideration of removal. The complainant, Jessie Browning, is a member of the local chapter of Moms for Liberty, a far right group promoting removal of books across the country.

Browning this week spoke in defense of removing Assassination Classroom and others she considers obscene.

“Why are some adults demanding kids have access to material like this on the taxpayers’ dime while they’re in school? Obscenity such as this is not hard to spot or define,” said Browning.

Following her original complaint last year, a review committee determined the book to be appropriate for grades 9 and up. A subsequent appeal led several members of the school board to recommend removing it, a recommendation the school board ultimately decided not to approve.

School board trustees voting against removal were Janna Hafer, Teresa Larsen, Tanya Ludwig, Scott McCulloch and Zack Terakedis. Boad members who voted in favor were Jennifer Hoffman, Andrea Nemitz, Brooke Wagner and John VonLangen

Montana schools Superintendent Elsie Arntzen issued a statement Tuesday:

“This is an extremely disappointing decision from the Billings Trustees. I was hopeful that these Trustees would reflect the decision the Laurel Trustees made to protect our children from obscene materials. Our Montana tax dollars should invest in an education that elevates our children’s learning. It is an egregious misuse of precious taxpayer dollars to provide books with depictions of graphic violence and sexual content to our children. When children are being exposed to this material, I will always stand with parents and Montana families.”

A recording of Monday night’s school board meeting is archived online. More information, including past agendas and meeting materials, can be found on the Billings Public Schools website.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.