Idaho Mom Exposes Graphic Sexual Content in School Libraries

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  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 09/19/2023

Maureen Anderson was shocked to find sexually explicit books in school libraries in her city of Lewiston, Idaho. UncoverDC contacted Anderson on Thursday to talk with her about her June 12 reading of a passage from one of the books to the Lewiston District Board of Education. Anderson has been pleasantly surprised with the Board's willingness to listen and engage. District Superintendent Lance Hansen has also shown interest in Anderson's mission to, at a minimum, require explicit parental consent before a child checks out graphically sexual materials from school libraries. Anderson was pleased to share that her efforts have even prompted some teachers in the District to begin removing pornographic books from school library shelves all on their own.

Anderson's reading of an excerpt from the book "Push" by Sapphire for the Lewiston District School Board can be viewed below—warning: some of the language is graphic.

Anderson told UncoverDC she "never expected" to see pornographic materials in a city of "only 35,000 people." Because of her long history of activism, she was prompted to act—meaning—if she didn't know about what was going on in school libraries, she was sure others in her community had no idea either. Over 50 obscene/pornographic books are in the libraries at all levels of Lewiston, Idaho public schools,"  according to the "Grow Lewiston" Facebook page.

The journey to her public comment at the school board meeting did not start on June 7. No stranger to activism, her past experiences have informed her approach to the school district. She believes her penchant for collaboration and strategic thinking has contributed to positive engagement with district officials and teachers. "I thought rather than going in and being very adversarial," said Anderson, "I wanted to go in and raise awareness and then try to do what I call team building and get them on my side." 

Anderson shared that the school board usually doesn't ask questions. Still, this time the President, Bradley Cuddy, "stepped up and asked several questions," one of which was to ask whether he heard correctly that "Push" is currently available in the Lewiston High School library. Anderson was armed and ready with proof that it was there. She had a copy of the Valnet confirmation (an online catalog) and enlisted her daughter's help to take a photo of it on the school library shelf. Anderson added, "Board members were genuinely surprised, and I don't think they expected it." 

Anderson has been an activist in one way or another since 2000. In 2004 she served as a state delegate from Oregon, where she lived at the time. In 2021 she stuck her neck out locally by spearheading a local campaign called "Lewiston SMART." Working with Joseph Gish, they both knew the initiative that would "restructure city politics" might be a tough ask for a city election where voter engagement is usually low, and ballot language can be confusing.

Their Lewiston SMART campaign proposed a change in how city leadership was installed. According to Anderson, before the campaign, Lewiston was among "a handful of cities of Idaho that no longer elected its mayor. The city appointed or hired a city manager instead. Lewiston SMART was, according to Anderson:

"Two campaigns in one. One was to convince people that a constitutional approach would be better. Your closest officials should be in the hands of the vote, not unelected—not hired bureaucrats from the outside. The city manager we had was horrible. With his benefit package, he was making more money than the Governor of Idaho. The other half of the campaign was to teach voters how to vote because the language was the bureaucratic kind of deal where yes means no and no means yes. So we had to tell voters to vote 'no'" to change the law." 

The Lewiston SMART campaign was foundational to Anderson's current school library initiative because it led Anderson to Sen. Cindy Carlson (ID-7), who became a staunch ally to constituents on the education front. Carlson contacted Anderson because of her successful Lewiston SMART initiative. Carlson was running for Senate at the time. She asked Anderson to help her with opposition research during her campaign. Thus their collaboration began, blossoming into an education bill that would be one of Carlson's first forays into the legislative process in her new role as a state senator.

Carlson proposed House Bill 314 (Mar. 2023). HB314 was a "library and school-based bill" that would correct language related to an "odd carve out in Idaho State statutes," according to Anderson. The bill would restrict access to obscene books and add language to financially punish Idaho public institutions that expose children to sexualized or pornographic/obscene material.

The language needed to be addressed because while state statutes (Title 18 Ch. 15) do, according to Anderson, "call out pornographic material and obscenity [in schools, libraries and on the internet in those places], there is also a unique carve out that gives special protection to schools, libraries, museums, etc." Anderson explained the statute "gives them a positive defense so that those institutions can turn around and say materials have artistic or educational value." Ironically, Anderson noted that the District already has explicit internet usage policies concerning sexually explicit materials but wasn't as firm about physical materials in school libraries.

Lewiston District Policies/Internet

According to reporting from KTVB7, Carlson and others rewrote language in the statute to include fines of $2500 to $10,000 for having "harmful materials in libraries." Carlson presented a binder with a list of books to show people that could be considered offensive. Anderson says Carlson agrees that some school libraries are giving access to material that is graphically sexual in nature, an issue that must be fixed.

HB314 made it to the floor and even went to the Governor's desk, but the Governor ultimately vetoed it. Unfortunately, said Anderson, "some representatives and senators refused to override the veto" even though some had voted for it in the first place. Some, "including Lori McCann, changed their votes." She and Carlson are building a website called "Save Idaho Kids" to raise awareness about sexually explicit materials in Idaho schools.

When HB314 was vetoed, a lightbulb went on in Anderson's head. "The scrutiny over this bill became a huge thing in our state. I began to look into these materials and was shocked with what I found," said Anderson. Her awakening prompted a conversation with her daughter, a junior at the local high school. "I said to her I can't believe that the schools are allowing this. She looked at me and said, 'Oh, Mom, some of the books in the school library are horrible. My friends and I found pornographic books on the shelves.' I was completely taken aback," Anderson added.

Wanting to research the materials herself, Anderson used Booklooks and was horrified by what she found. She found books that, in her opinion, should never be in school libraries. At a minimum, she believes children under 18 should have explicit, written parental consent to check them out.

Booklooks is a website that rates books for parents. The tool was created by Moms for Liberty to help parents objectively evaluate reading material in schools. Booklooks features a "content-based rating system" on a scale of "0" to "5". A "0" rating means the book is for everyone, while "4 and 5" ratings indicate content for over 18 or strictly adult. Anderson focuses primarily on materials rated a "4" or a "5" on the scale.

Booklooks Content-Based Rating Scale

Anderson then found Valnet, an online catalog of titles available in libraries. It shows where the titles are housed across the state, whether they are checked out, and the book's location in real-time. She was shocked that "these pornographic, graphic books are absolutely everywhere in the state."

Anderson was particularly disturbed when she happened upon a book for young children entitled, "All Better." Anderson says that many books have misleading or bland titles, allowing libraries or activist teachers to avoid parental scrutiny. "All Better," said Anderson, "is a very young children's book. It's an interactive book where the animal characters get hurt, and you peel off this Band-Aid, and you ask the child to kiss the owie and then put the Band-Aid on it. As the book goes through, suddenly, you get to these below-the-belt injuries. And you're supposed to kiss those areas, and the animal characters are in sexually suggestive positions." 

She has spent hours compiling a spreadsheet of books focusing on "4" and "5" ratings as defined by Booklooks with details about the location of those books. She is also collaborating with others across the state. Anderson shared she is a "see it, touch it, feel it" kind of parent, and she hopes her compilation will help make the issue equally real to other parents. She also hopes parents will use her research as a tool to prompt their own type of activism in their communities throughout the state.

A snapshot of her work can be viewed below. The worksheet includes brief descriptions of the content in many cases and ratings for the books:

Anderson Excel Sheet

Maureen Anderson says she "is just a mom who worries about the future of her children and grandchildren." However, listening to her story, it became clear that her talents and motivation to effect change locally serve her and her community well. We need more citizens like her who are willing to jump in feet first.

It is rare to run across a citizen who understands how important it is to cultivate relationships when asking officials to change how they do things. Old habits die hard. And those habits are usually put in place for good reason at one point or another.

Anderson is also laser-focused on "behind-the-scenes" activism that challenges citizens of all stripes to become more involved. She plans to form a Moms for Liberty Chapter locally to gain national support and recognition. She also recognizes the need for guidance because "they have already been out there doing this for a few years now."

Anderson wants to equip parents across the state with the awareness and the tools to effect needed changes in their communities. She wants to help them answer the important questions: "How do I find out if this is in my school? Whom do I contact? How do I research? How do I open conversations with my school board? Which candidates should I support to further my cause? How can I motivate others to step up around the state?"

Most importantly, however, Anderson says there is a need for people in the community to realize that the issues that "affect one person, affect us all. We have to do what the Tea Party did. The Tea Party was effective because it didn't try to change things from the top down. It worked from the bottom up. I want to get parent groups going around the state so that we can all help each other out!"

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