By Rebekah Riess, CNN
An Oklahoma teacher says she has resigned from her position as an English teacher with Norman Public Schools following controversy over the display of, and student access to, more than 500 books in her classroom library.
Summer Boismier, who was an English teacher at Norman High School, told CNN that before the start of the school year, English teachers in the district were asked to review the books in their classroom libraries to see which might “elicit challenges,” in relation to an Oklahoma law that restricts teaching about race and gender.
Teachers, including herself, often personally fill and fund classroom libraries, which she called an “absolutely vital” resource, she said.
“I pay for those books. I put books on my shelves that I think not only would be appealing to students, but center stories that have traditionally been left out of official ELA (English Language Arts) curriculum,” Boismier said Wednesday.
Oklahoma’s HB 1775 is intended to stop discrimination, according to the bill. If any educator makes part of their curriculum teachings that “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,” they could be suspended or have their license removed, the law states.
According to Boismier, teachers were asked to either box up the books they felt could be at issue, turn them around so that the spines faced inward and the title of the text could not be seen, or cover them up, with butcher paper, for example.
Boismier decided to cover the books, she told CNN. She also labeled the covered books with the title, “Books the State Doesn’t Want You to Read,” and placed a QR code linking to the Brooklyn Public Library on the paper covering her books, she said.
She said also added a label to the QR code that read, “Definitely don’t scan!”
“I had seen other teachers online talking about this, that the library was offering all students ages 13 to 21 in the United States access to a free e-library card that would give them access to the library’s books unbanned program,” Boismier said.
“The concern then became that this, at least in my classroom, was a political stunt and a public display. And I want to be clear, I was told to cover my books,” she said.
School district officials said in a statement that a parent reached out to them with a concern and they reviewed the situation.
“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.
Boismier told CNN the district said officials felt the label on the QR code somehow made it made it forbidden and we don’t want to encourage students to break the law.”
“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% deserve a place in our reading lists, in individual curricula, that should be centered and protected, because they have historically been erased,” Boismier told CNN.
She said after the first day of school on August 19, she was told she would be placed on administrative leave and was not to come to school the next Monday.
The school district denied Boismier was placed on leave.
“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,” school district officials said.
The statement said officials expected Boismier to return to class Wednesday and 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.
Boismier said she felt district officials wanted her to say she had made a mistake, which she said she is unwilling to do.
“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,” she told CNN, adding that she believes classrooms are political spaces.
“I want to be clear, too; there’s a difference between political and partisan,” she said. “So I take umbrage and issue with assertions that educators should not bring their politics into the classroom.”
She added that the new law is designed as a trap that makes it impossible for teachers to do their jobs.
“It’s intentionally designed to stifle the conversations that we need to be having in the classroom, around systemic inequality, around privilege,” she said. “It’s my desire and the top objective that I have as an educator, to make my classroom as inclusive as possible.”
Boismier said she doesn’t think she will apply to work at a different school district because there isn’t a school in the state that would work with her fundamental beliefs.
CNN has reached out to the Professional Educators of Norman, the teacher’s union representing Boismier, for comment.
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