Lawsuit contends Mat-Su book removals violate student civil rights

PALMER — A lawsuit filed by a pair of civil rights organizations on behalf of eight Mat-Su students contends the borough school district violated their constitutional rights when officials removed 56 books from library shelves early this year.

The suit was filed Friday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and the Anchorage-based Northern Justice Project on behalf of six parents representing their minor children in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and two Mat-Su high school students over age 18. It asks the court to rule the removals unconstitutional and order the district to put them back in school libraries.

By removing the books, “the District violated the plaintiff students’ First Amendment right to receive ideas and information as a necessary predicate to their meaningful exercise of the rights of speech, press and political freedom,” the suit states.

The books, which include titles widely considered classics such as the novels “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison and “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, were removed from school shelves in April after they were flagged as “challenged” by parents and community members.

While school district officials learned of the lawsuit through an ACLU press release Friday, they have yet to be served any related legal documents, said Jillian Morrissey, a district spokeswoman.

Under district policy, books in Mat-Su schools can be challenged for any reason. Some of those questioned include discussions of gender identity, sex education or LGBTQ+ issues, such as graphic novel “Flamer” by Mike Curato. Others include depictions of violence or sexual assault, such as “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini.

The questioned books are currently under review by a library community advisory committee tasked with voting on whether each book violates a state law against indecent material in schools and whether each should be available in schools.


The committee has met three times and made recommendations for 12 books. Of those, they have voted that two — Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” and “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie Harris — violate state law and have recommended both be permanently removed from all libraries. Its next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 14.

The Mat-Su school board will make the final decision on whether challenged books remain permanently off school shelves. A district spokesperson said the board has not yet put that action on its agenda.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. The minor children represented in the case by their parents attend Birchtree Charter School, Colony Middle School and Colony High School. The two 18-year-old students attend Palmer High School.

Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.