By Melanie Romero
A few months ago, back in February 2023, the Orange Unified School District received a complaint from concerned parents, claiming that a library-vouched application, identified as Sora, would be temporarily shut down due to its inappropriate content towards children. More specifically, the parents claimed at a school district board meeting that their second-grade children had access to age-inappropriate reading books through digital library applications available on their school iPads, making it a lively risk to both schoolchildren and parents alike on the content derived in a school-supported digital library.
In a quick move, now-resigned Superintendent Edward Velasquez proceeded to provisionally restrict the use of the application in order to further look into the concerns of these parents. In an email to parents, Velasquez stated that “[v]irtual libraries are a critical resource for students to utilize, but they must have the proper safeguards in place to allow parents to choose what they feel is appropriate for their child and ensure students are protected from content that is not age-appropriate.” Despite this being one of his first actions in his interim role, Velasquez was not met with communal fanfare; rather, the President of the Orange Unified Education Association proclaimed in a phone interview that the association itself disagreed with the speed of Velasquez’s decision and the lack of consultation from the school district.
Although the consensus between the Orange Unified School District and the Orange Unified Education Association consisted of having a line of educators on the incoming reviewing committee of digital books pending authorization to enter the digital application, some parents – on the other side of the issue – claimed that this conversation instigated talks of book censorship.
They couldn’t understand why the district would suspend complete student access to Sora over complaints of just two books that received backlash.
Not to mention, Orange County has recently been caught in the crossfire of a nationwide debate of what should and shouldn’t be taught at schools. Although in some aspects Orange County is making considerable progress in literacy, it also can’t be forgotten that it’s still struggling to promote LGBTQ+ content and racial equity. As stated by PEN America, “[t]he vast majority of the books targeted by these groups for removal feature LGBTQ+ characters or characters of color, and/or cover race and racism in American history, LGBTQ+ identities, or sex education.”
But, those fighting against the age-inappropriate content found on Sora explained that their critiques had nothing to do with these issues, but rather just putting parental controls on unsuitable content. Other parents, though, claimed that the parents who brought up these complaints had to have spent hours and hours looking through the application to intentionally find these books, as one parent said it took him “forever” to even find the flagged books on his daughter’s school-issued tablet.
So, with this in mind, the dilemma gravitated between age-inappropriate content and book censorship and, more specifically, in relation to our next generation of literary lovers: children.
At LibroMobile, our mission is to make literacy accessible in our community and beyond, while maintaining a multidisciplinary creative space for all our new, cemented, and upcoming artists (most of whom identify as people of color) so they can culturally enrich and advocate for their audience. Although we do not sponsor age-inappropriate content, especially for children, we actively encourage a love for curiosity and for pervasive discussion amongst parents, educators, and our community. Our book advisors, ever-present in our brick and mortar, can help little ones, youth, and adults in search of their next read, based on their preferences, from genre and theme to authors and age ranges.
The latest book-banning issue in Orange County should be a topic of conversation between educators and parents, with the school system and school association serving as mediators. But, the district shouldn’t have power to completely shut down an application on which a few complaints were launched on solely two books. By shutting down school-funded digital book applications, we slowly take away resources from children in search of books that can be accessible both at school and at home, and we create a domino effect that impacts and hurts one party to the next: children find themselves limited to titles that have been pre-approved and vouched, educators and librarians note how their space has gone from being safe to punitive, and authors notice their books are being targeted. Not to mention, parents struggle to curate a safe space for their children and offer them a universe where books are meant to educate and worldbuild, not isolate or ban.
...educators and librarians note how their space has gone from being safe to punitive, and authors notice their books are being targeted.
As Orange County moves forward in the education sphere, the hope is that they listen to leaders in education and make informative calls based on correct consultation. Our little ones are our future, and their empowerment to read books, whether physically or digitally, shouldn’t be limited based on preconceived notions.
Melanie Romero is a trilingual writer born and raised in Orange, CA. It was during childhood weekend trips to Randy’s $1-a-book stall at the OC Market Place that she discovered a passion for reading and, eventually, writing. Today, she serves as Editor at Lil’ Libros and has written two children’s books, Amor de colores and J is for Janucá under the publisher. In her free time, she can be found indulging in challah and getting lost among the shelves of independent bookstores.
Starting February 2023, #OffThePage is featuring Melanie Romero as our monthly columnist. Our Arts & Culture column was initially founded by local journalist Gabriel San Román in May 2020. Since then we have collaboratively featured over 25 stories and paid nearly 10 contributors from our community. Pitch Melanie a story or email us for more information!