* Suit says unconstitutional stigma placed on book
* School district "comfortable with the process"
By Jennifer Dobner
SALT LAKE CITY, Nov 14 A Utah parent has sued
her school district in federal court challenging the
constitutionality of restrictions imposed on student access to a
library book about a lesbian couple raising a family.
"In Our Mothers' House" by author Patricia Polacco was
removed from Davis School District library shelves and placed
behind the counter last spring after complaints from some
parents that a lifestyle they viewed as aberrant was favorably
depicted in the book.
Under a decision made by a district committee in April, the
book remains in its school library collections, but students
need permission from their parents to check it out.
School officials acknowledge no similar limits have been
placed on other titles in the library inventories of the Davis
district, which encompasses an area north of Salt Lake City.
Parent Tina Weber objected to the restrictions, and
attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit
on her behalf in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City on
Tuesday, saying the policy amounts to "prior restraint" that
violates her children's free-speech rights.
No hearings have been set in the case, for which the ACLU is
seeking class-action status.
Utah is not the first place parents have raised concerns
about Polacco's book, which was published in 2009. A 2011 report
by the ACLU of Texas showed "In Our Mothers' House" was banned
in several schools in that state.
The Utah lawsuit asserts that by restricting access to a
book based on its depiction of a family with same-sex parents,
"the district has placed a discriminatory burden on the
students' ability to access fully protected speech."
"Even worse, restricting access to 'In Our Mothers' House'
and segregating it from the rest of the library collection
places an unconstitutional stigma on the book and the students
who wish to read it," the lawsuit says.
Weber has two children who attend Windridge Elementary
School, where other parents first complained about the book, and
she gave her youngsters permission to check it out.
Their ages are not specified in the lawsuit, but the legal
director for the ACLU's Utah chapter said Weber read the story
together with her 6-year-old daughter.
District officials have not yet been served with the lawsuit
and cannot comment on its contents, spokesman Chris Williams
told Reuters on Wednesday.
NOT ON THE SHELVES, 'BUT ACCESSIBLE'
"We still feel very comfortable with the process we
followed, which is laid out in district policy," Williams said.
"We still believe that at no time did we take parents out of the
driver's seat. Parents still have the opportunity, if they want
their child to read the book, to get it. It's not on the
shelves, but it's accessible."
Parents were informed by letter of the restricted access
after a district panel voted 6-1 in favor of requiring
permission slips to check out the book. An elementary school
committee of parents and educators decided earlier to allow only
children in grades 3 and up to read the book.
"I was shocked when I heard that a handful of parents had
made a decision about whether everyone else's kids could have
access to this book," Weber said in a statement issued through
Utah's ACLU office.
District officials have said that leaving the book on the
library shelves would run afoul of Utah state sex education laws
that prohibit any advocacy of homosexuality in the school
curriculum. The district argues that curriculum extends to its
The ACLU lawsuit argues that library books are not
curriculum materials and that including the book in library
offerings does not amount to an endorsement of homosexuality.
The author of numerous award-winning children's books,
Polacco has said she wrote the "In Our Mothers' House" after
attending a school assembly where a child was silenced for
speaking out about her same-sex parents.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Osterman)