The Downtown Juneau Library, April 7, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

The Downtown Juneau Library, April 7, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Juneau board has no plans to follow Mat-Su’s lead on banned books

‘The Great Gatsby’ can still be taught in capital city

The president of the Juneau Board of Education said that they have no intention of following the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School Board after it banned five books from their curricula on April 22.

“This is a surprise to the school board,” said school board President Brian Holst in a phone interview. “The Juneau School District has no plans to do anything like this.”

The MSBSB voted 5-2 to remove “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou, “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller, and “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien.

“I think I read both “Catch-22” and “The Great Gatsby” when I was a student at JDHS (Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé),” Holst said. “They’ve been a part of education for a long time.”

Juneau School District doesn’t have any sort of banned book list. There were books colored with blatant racism toward the Alaska Native people that were replaced, in favor of better texts, Holst said.

“We do not have a banned book list,” Holst said. “A few years ago we identified a few books that were egregiously culturally insensitive so we don’t include those books in our curriculum. There was no need for them, given there were better resources for the grade levels.”

Police say teenager a ‘person of interest’ in Fred Meyer vehicle vandalism

Holst said that a lack of public comment at the meeting may have led to the 5-2 vote to remove the books from the school district’s curriculum.

“There was no public comment at that meeting,” Holst said. “My guess is that there are many parents across America who would like to see classic literature respected in the curriculum.”

While the decision will not remove the books from school libraries, said head of the Alaska Library Association Deborah Rinio in an email, it will limit student’s interaction with the complex themes presented in the books stripped from the curriculum.

“Class discussions of books can provide a safe forum for learners to grapple intellectually and emotionally with difficult issues under the guidance of an experienced educator,” Rinio said in an email. “Reading literature with challenging themes can aid learners in developing empathy, critical thinking skills, and knowledge of other cultures and experiences.”

Holst echoed the sentiment, saying to trust Juneau’s teachers to help students become stronger and more prepared people by examining complicated and difficult issues.

Ferries will receive $10M in federal relief funding

“In Juneau, we have a lot of trust in the ability of our education system and people need to be prepared for the world they’re living in,” Holst said. “That means talking about controversial topics, and doing so in a structured environment is probably best for students.”

Libraries are protected from exclusion by the Library Bill of Rights, Rinio said, which states that books shouldn’t be removed purely because of their origin, age, background or the views of the authors. Libraries should also not remove books because of partisan disapproval of the content, Rinio said.

“From what I can gather, it appears the five books removed from the MSBSD curriculum were labeled as ‘controversial’ by the MSBSD Office of Instruction. Exactly why or when is unclear to me,” Rinio said. “It is important to note that what is controversial is subjective and whether a book is considered controversial is not a criteria by which it should be included or excluded from curricular resource lists or library collections. It is unclear why these particular five books were singled out.”

Juneau Public Libraries Marketing Coordinator Kate Enge said that the same bill of rights protects Juneau’s libraries, which are separate from the school’s curriculum and libraries in any case.

Per the policy of the Alaska Library Association, Rinio said, the books will continue to circulate at public libraries in the Mat-Su region.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or

More in News

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. A medical director at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control says the numbers of active COVID-19 cases that are variants of concern are higher than what has been publicly reported in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID-RML via AP
COVID at a glance for Thursday, April 15

These numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau… Continue reading

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Thursday, April 15, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

COVID at a glance for Wednesday, April 14

The most recent state and local numbers.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Wednesday, April 14, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows an envelope containing a 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident. On Wednesday, March 24, 2021, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the state of Ohio that tried to get the U.S. Census Bureau to provide data used for drawing congressional and legislative districts ahead of its planned release. (AP Photo / Matt Rourke)
Alaska joins 15 other states in backing Alabama’s challenge to Census privacy tool

The case could go directly to the Supreme Court if appealed.

Has it always been a police car? (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Tuesday, April 13, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This photo shows the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine sits on a table at a pop up vaccinations site the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, in the Staten Island borough of New York. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer)
CDC freeze on Johnson and Johnson vaccine sets clinics scrambling

The odds of being affected are vanishingly rare, but CDC says better safe than sorry.

After over 30 years at 3100 Channel Drive, the Juneau Empire offices are on the move. (Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File)
The Juneau Empire is on the move

Advertising and editorial staff are moving to Jordan Creek Center.

Most Read