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RCAS 'to be destroyed' books still in limbo, some now 'missing'

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Surplus list

A close-up listing of the five book titles that could have been destroyed if the Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education declares them as surplus property in May. Two of the book titles are missing while the remaining three could be sent to a book buyer.

The Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education and administration is still waiting to hear about the legality of selling the five books originally slated for destruction near the end of the 2021-2022 school year, and two of the titles are missing.

Five book titles — "How Beautiful We Were: A Novel" by Imbolo Mbue, "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel, "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky, "Girl, Woman, Other: A Novel" by Bernardine Evaristo, and "The Circle" by Dave Eggers — appeared on the district's surplus list and were listed as "to be destroyed" May 4 after being deemed inappropriate by administration earlier in the school year. The books were purchased the summer before last school year for 12th grade English classes.

RCAS Interim Chief Executive Officer Nicole Swigart said in an email Monday that 30 copies of "The Circle" and 35 copies of "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" are no longer at the school warehouse. She said they are believed to have been on a pallet of books sold to book buyers at an auction during the last school year.

Swigart said she was told all of the books were accounted for in the two sets and there is "no way of determining when they were sold; it was a mistake since they had not been cleared to be sold."

She said she has not heard back from the school district's legal counsel about how to proceed with the books.

Matt Naasz, an attorney for the district at Gunderson, Palmer, Nelson and Ashmore, did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Board President Kate Thomas said the board was still waiting for advice from attorneys on what to do with the remaining books as of the Aug. 15 RCAS Board of Education meeting. She said if counsel said the books are approved to be sold, the three remaining titles will be on the surplus list for the Sept. 6 meeting and will be sold to a book buyer.

The controversy with the books began in August 2021, when then-Superintendent Lori Simon forwarded an email to school board members from a concerned parent asking about the book “How Beautiful We Were: A Novel” possibly being banned.

In the email, Simon replied to the parent that the district was made aware of “some sexually explicit content in a book” and after reading it, didn’t believe it was appropriate for school-age students. Simon forwarded her response to the board stating some of them may have received the same email.

The school district then began an investigation of the other titles for review. During the process, district administrators led by Valerie Seales, RCAS director of teaching, learning and innovation, removed the other four titles as well.

The five sets of books were confirmed to be at the school district's warehouse in March, email records show.

In May, the book titles appeared on the district's surplus property list and went before the Board of Education 's consent agenda as items "to be destroyed."

Public outcry, both for and against the books, at the May 3 meeting caused the Board of Education to delay a decision on destroying the titles and to seek legal advice.

— Contact Siandhara Bonnet at siandhara.bonnet@rapidcityjournal.com

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