A Brooklyn Public Library initiative to combat state book bans has landed an Oklahoma teacher in trouble, after a parent there complained her promotion of the resource was itself a violation of state law.
Summer Boismier, a high school English teacher in Norman, Okla., told Gothamist she was placed on leave after providing her students with information about Books UnBanned, a program that allows anyone between the ages of 13 to 21 to access the Brooklyn Public Library’s digital collection at no charge.
The library system launched the resource in April as a response to a surge in book bans spearheaded by conservative activists and lawmakers throughout the U.S. It has since received more than 4,000 applications from teenagers in every state, according to Fritzi Bodenheimer, a spokesperson for Brooklyn Public Library.
Last year, Oklahoma passed its own law placing restrictions on classroom materials, including literature, that references “discriminatory principles,” widely understood to mean topics like systemic racism or issues facing the LGBTQ community. As a result, Boismier, a public school teacher in the state for nine years, said she was given little choice but to turn to the resources of a library system more than 1,000 miles away.
When her 10th graders arrived for their first day on Friday, they were greeted by red paper signs announcing the “books the state doesn’t want you to read,” accompanied by a QR code for the Brooklyn Public Library sign-up page.
“I saw this as an opportunity for my kids who were seeing their stories hidden to skirt that directive,” she said. “Nowhere in my directives did it say we can’t put a QR code on a wall.”
Within hours, the school's officials had made multiple trips to her classroom to photograph the posters. She soon learned that she was being placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into a potential violation of the state law, known as House Bill 1775. The suspension was first reported by KOKH-TV reporter Wendy Suares.
Boismier now plans to resign, she said, after a meeting with school leaders on Tuesday left her feeling she would not be able to teach without censoring herself and her students.
Wes Moody, a spokesperson for the school district, confirmed the investigation into Boismier, which he said was sparked by a parent complaint. He said the new state law pushed the district to put “renewed emphasis on ensuring our teachers and staff have reviewed their classroom resources to ensure all materials are age and content appropriate.”
Asked if sharing a public library’s digital catalog could constitute a violation of the state law, Moody said it would “depend on time, manner, and place” of the recommendation.
Last month, Oklahoma took its first enforcement action under the law, downgrading the accreditation of two school districts, one of which allegedly used training materials that “shame white people.”
The ACLU is currently suing the state over the law.
Boismier said it was clear the district was afraid her library promotion would prompt a similar penalty.
“The legislation has done exactly what it intended, which is to stifle any discussions around systemic inequality, specifically related to race and gender. All it takes is one person, one complaint, to put an entire district at risk,” she said. “It’s put Oklahoma education in a vice.”
The Brooklyn Public Library spokesperson said they were working to make contact with the Boismier to offer their support.
“Limiting access or providing one-sided information is a threat to democracy itself and we can not sit idly by while books rejected by a few are removed from library shelves for all,” the spokesperson added. “We invite young people ages 13 to 21, from every state in the nation, to apply for a digital library available through our Books Unbanned program.”