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'Forever is a long time' Nampa school board member Jeff Kirkman discusses recent 22 book removal

For Nampa School Board President, Jeff Kirkman, the decision to remove books goes beyond just wanting to take books out of libraries.

NAMPA, Idaho — Since early May, the community in and around Nampa has debated the Nampa School District’s decision to remove 22 books from district library shelves. The decision came during a May 9 board meeting, where the five-member school board opted to remove books that were challenged and brought to the attention of the board.

At the time of removal, some of the challenged books were still under review for possible content some parents deemed inappropriate because of “pornographic” content.

The decision was met by an emotional reaction from both supporters of the decision and critics. Those against removing the books argue it is censoring necessary topics students should be engaged with. Serious matters for discussion including sexual assault, violence and adult relationships were inside books some parents said went too far for the classroom.

For the first time since the removals began, Nampa School Board President Jeff Kirkman spoke with KTVB about the vote to remove books, the process leading up to the decision and next steps in the discussion. 

Kirkman said the rationale behind his ‘yes’ vote to remove the list of books ‘forever’ isn’t as simple as just wanting to get rid of books. He said, for him, it comes down to the process, one he found inconsistent.

“During that decision or during that period of time after discussion, a trustee made that motion to remove the books permanently and when he added the word ‘forever’ at the last second, it kind of caught me off guard," Kirkman said. "So, now I'm starting to think when I vote, that's really going to make a difference, that forever piece, because my thought, for me personally, was let's remove these books temporarily so that we can get a process in place. Let's just pause everything, because that's really what was going on. 

"There was a lot of contention, we got to take him out, got to leave him in. Let's take this out. Take that out. Well, I just wanted to say, let's just pause. So, that was what I intended to do with my vote, was remove those books, pause the process, work with district staff. Get a really good procedure in place that everybody knew."

Kirkman said the process to review challenged books wasn’t consistent.

“There was some kind of a process in place, but really nothing concrete that we could say: 'Here, Mr. Parent, here's the process of how this works.' That was an issue for the Trustees," Kirkman said. "We wanted to make sure that there was a really concrete process in place and that's why I brought it up at that work session. Let's bring this to a board and let's get public input. Let's go through that open meeting of that public meeting and work through this process.”

Some of the feedback Kirkman received was about the wording used in the public meeting to describe the removal, as for ‘forever.’ He said the topic can be introduced again.

“To be honest with you, there's books on that list that shouldn't be on that list. They should not be removed from the libraries, but for me, at that point, to make that decision, 'yes,' to remove those, it wasn't about specific books," Kirkman said. "It was like, here's what we know, the books that are in question, let's just pull those. Get a procedure in place and then run all those books through that process and any other books that might come up."

There is community comments accusing the Nampa School Board of simply not wanting students to talk about tough subjects like sexual assault, rape, sex, and general violence. 

Some parents have spoken out, arguing those 'tough' subjects are very important and ones young adults need to talk about. Kirkman said he hears those comments and it is a task now to find a balance.

“I think that's why it's really important to continue the conversation with parents. 'How do you want this to look? Do you want every time a content comes up in a classroom, we have to stop everything, reach out to parents, get their input? Do we do an opt in? Do we do an opt out?' Those conversations are not new, but if we did that, and I'm just thinking down the road, if we stopped everything so that we could get the parents, which again need to be involved to ask those questions, we're never going to have the time to teach," Kirkman said. "Is it the school's responsibility to teach arithmetic, reading, writing - those core traditional school subjects? I say, yes. 

"Is it the parents' responsibility to teach their kids about sex? I say yes. I take that responsibility with my own kids. Do they need to be exposed to all this other traumatic trauma, all this other stuff? Yes, they do. But, a school, is that the right place to do that? Is the classroom the right place to do it? Yeah. I don't know where that line is, but that's why we continuously have conversations with people in the community."

Reaction of the book removal included local bookstores stocking the removed books as well as community efforts to provide the books in question to interested students and families. Kirkman said he has no issue with that effort at all.

“I don't have a problem with that. I think that's fantastic. It's another opportunity for people to get the books that aren't available or may not be available in the public libraries," Kirkman said. "I know a lot of them are doing that to make a statement, which again is okay with me, I have no problem with that at all, but it's a great way for people to have access to the books they may not otherwise have access to in the libraries. So, I don't have an issue with that at all."

The Nampa School Board is expected to meet next week. They are hoping to begin a process of creating a new system for challenge books going forward. Kirkman said the goal is to get it done as soon as possible.

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