GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A lawsuit against Rockford Public Schools wants books removed from libraries in the district, saying the books are sexual in nature.

Attorneys made arguments before a Kent County judge Friday morning.

Attorney Helen Brinkman argued the case on behalf of a group that calls itself Parents and Taxpayers Against Pornography in Rockford Public Schools.

“The First Amendment has never allowed children access to this type of material. This is not a First Amendment case,” Brinkman said. “It is a felony in the state of Michigan to provide this material to minors.”

The lawsuit mentioned several books that have been frequently challenged in libraries across the country. It alleged that the school and its leaders have committed a felony by having multiple books in its collections that are sexual in nature and making them available to minors.

The district said parents can have any book blocked from being checked out by their students, but it hasn’t received any formal challenges about these books.

“There are two anonymous plaintiffs, Jane Doe and John Doe. The allegations are only that they’re former students of Rockford Public Schools. They’re not current students,” said attorney Steve van Stempvoort, who was representing the district.

Brinkman argued that the books in the library are sex education books and fall under state law that requires notification of parents.

“Your honor, I’d never thought that I would stand before the court asking it to stop a school from putting the priority of sexualizing minors before their duty under the Michigan law,” Brinkman said.

Inside the library at Rockford High School. (Oct. 20, 2023)
Inside the library at Rockford High School. (Oct. 20, 2023)

Superintendent Steve Matthews said the books are not part of the curriculum. 

“These books are not required books. They’re books that students can check out, and they appeal to a broad cross section of our student population,” Matthews said. “So we don’t view any of them as inappropriate or, as the lawsuit suggests, pornographic.”

The superintendent said the district is following policy consistent with the First Amendment. Matthews, who said he has read many of the books in question, argued that the portions of the books highlighted in the lawsuit do not reflect the material in full.

“You can single out any single passage and make it without context seem worse than it is,” Matthews said. “But in the context of the total book — I think if people would take the time to read them, they would understand that for some students, these are meaningful books.”

The district provided the following statement to News 8:

Rockford Public Schools’ library offers a wide variety of books, which may appeal to different students based on their age, maturity, interests, or personal struggles.  Although not every book will be of interest or appropriate for all students, none of the books on our shelves are unlawful or ‘pornographic,’ as the anonymous Plaintiffs have claimed.  In fact, all of the books that this anonymous group has challenged have earned literary awards or accolades.  This includes The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, who won a Nobel Prize for her work.  As the Court already acknowledged when it denied Plaintiffs’ request for a restraining order to have the books removed, Rockford Public Schools has not violated the Revised School Code and ‘Plaintiffs calling the books in question pornography does not make them so.’ Rockford Public Schools does have a process through which interested community members may raise concerns with materials in our library and through which parents may restrict the books that their own children read.  We are disappointed that, although the Plaintiffs are aware of these policies, they chose to file a lawsuit instead. We are confident that Rockford Public Schools has complied with its legal obligations, consistent with the First Amendment.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit declined News 8’s request for an interview.

The judge said he expects to have a written ruling sometime next week.