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Billings school panel to recommend banning of 'Assassination Classroom' in library

SD2 council recommends 'Assassination Classroom' to be removed from the district
Posted at 5:41 PM, Jan 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-16 11:37:40-05

BILLINGS — A panel appointed by the Billings school board recommended Monday that the book "Assassination Classroom" be banned from school classrooms and libraries.

The panel included three board members, Jennifer Hoffman, Andrea Nemitz and Brooke Wagner. The three discussed the graphic novel at a meeting at the Lincoln Center and concerns brought forward by a parent. The book by Yusei Matsui was challenged and reviewed by Billings School District 2 following a complaint about violent content.

"I just have a difficult time in our current climate in having a series of books, whether it’s fictitious, science fiction, manga, whatever it is that depicts and glorifies killing our teachers," said Hoffman. "We love our teachers and want nothing but our teachers to be safe, and I know that there’s a lot of people that see it differently and see that this book is purely entertainment."

The action in Billings comes within days of a similar move by the Laurel school board, which banned "Assassination Classroom" and five other titles from the school following parent complaints.

The members also said that schools should more closely monitor what students are reading.

"I would love to think in my mind that 100% of the caregivers and parents that 2,180 students (of West High) would know what their child is reading, would know what their child is studying in school, would know what their child is doing after school, would know where they are. That would be great. I would love to think that 100% of that number would be as engaged as the parents that we’ve seen," said Wagner. "If even one percent of our students have access to this book in our library can’t understand the difference between fantasy and reality and can make that differentiation for themselves, that’s 22 students that we’re leaving out to the wolves."

At the meeting, members of the public were allowed to comment on whether it should be banned from the district. One attendee, Darrell James, a former educator and substitute teacher for the district, spoke against the ban and said the popular book can be a positive for some students.

"Some students are awkward. Some students are unpopular, and they’re afraid to play sports. They’re not good at academics. They just don’t fit in. And instead of letting them slip through the cracks, those are the students who find books like this and it can save them," said James. "They find books, books chosen by experts in the field, teachers and librarians with master’s degrees in library science. That’s who’s choosing these books and what they find in a book like this that they can’t find in the hallways of a high school, is acceptance."

Darrell James
Darrell James opposed the ban of the novel 'Assassination Classroom'

James disagreed that the book was violent in its messaging and felt that many of those who favored the ban did not read or understand the true meaning of the book in its entirety.

“They didn’t read this book. They found a sensational graphic and they cherry-picked something that they found offensive without understanding it in context at all. This book is what we call a modern allegory. ‘Assassination Classroom’ is an allegory about an oppressive and rigid educational system that lets the misfits slide," said James.

Overall, he felt disappointed by the result of the meeting and does not believe banning books is the way to resolve issues seen in schools.

"There’s a reason other states are jealous of Montana and other countries are jealous of the United States. We have strong personal freedoms and personal responsibilities. If you ban books, you take our right to exercise both of those away from us. No more personal freedom and no more personal responsibility. I don’t need and I don’t want students to be parented by the government. Let’s leave it to the experts,” said James.

However, others favored the ban not only for its violent nature but argue that the book violates a Montana law that was put into place last year that places restrictions on material deemed "obscene" in classrooms.

"Kids do not have a First Amendment right to read absolutely anything an adult wants to provide them," wrote Jessie Browning, the parent who initially requested the ban, in a statement on Monday. "It's against MT law to provide sexually explicit material to kids, and MT law HB 234 makes it clear that teachers and librarians are not exempt from that law."

Browning also felt that taxpayers should not have to pay for books that contain material determined inappropriate.

"In light of millions of dollars in a budget deficit inherited from previous leadership and exceedingly low academic scores, many parents and taxpayers want the district to take this issue seriously," stated Browning. "Don't waste tax dollars on books promoting violence against teachers or sexually graphic material, which has been proven to cause an increase in mental health problems and violence among children."

The three-member panel will present its recommendation to the full board in a letter. The vote to authorize the ban is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 22 in the Lincoln Center.