Farmington School Board lets challenged book “Kingdom of Ash” remain available to all High School students

Farmington High School (File Photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FARMINGTON -- The Farmington School Board last week voted 4-1 to retain the fantasy book "Kingdom of Ash" by Sarah Maas in the high school library for all students.

The board's decision Oct. 30 was in response to an appeal by parent Atina King, who first brought her concerns about the book to the media specialist Aug. 31.

Board member Amy Hill voted against the motion to retain the book. Board President Travis Warren and members Josh Petree, Mark Vaughn and Lori Blew voted yes on the motion to retain the book.

"Kingdom of Ash" is the fourth high school library book challenged by King since December because of what she says are sexually explicit materials that are not age-appropriate for students in the school.

In March, the board unanimously voted to restrict two books in the high school library to students who are 17 years old or older. King asked the School Board to remove the books "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson and "Tricks" by Ellen Hopkins.

In April, the board unanimously voted to retain the book "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut. King was asking the board to remove this book from the library as well.

The board adopted a procedure for challenging a book at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year. The procedure starts with the media specialist providing a copy of the policy to someone who has made a complaint.

The policy shows a challenge first goes to the school principal for discussion. If the person still is not satisfied, an assistant superintendent tries to resolve the issue.

If the individual still is not satisfied, the person can complete a request for reconsideration form. Upon receiving this form, the school principal appoints a committee to reconsider the materials.

The individual can accept the committee's findings or appeal this decision to the School Board. According to a new state law, the board has two options for an appeal: retain the book or place it in a restrictive area for students 18 and older.

A high school committee made up of Principal Jon Purifoy and six teachers recommended the school retain "Kingdom of Ash" in the library for all students, and King appealed its decision to the board.

In her request for reconsideration, King wrote she failed to see how sexual violence and explicit sexual content in fantasy novels is age-appropriate. She cited several sections with sexual content she considered inappropriate and objectionable.

One review of the book from states the book is "not for young adults," King wrote on the form.

Her challenge also included an attachment from a review by that listed sections in the book that included sexual content.

The report from the high school committee noted that "Kingdom of Ash" is the final book in the Throne of Glass series by Maas, and the book would appeal to those students who enjoy fantasy and also "love witnessing the development of complex relationships and war strategies."

The committee found the "brief mentions of sexuality are not glorified nor do they dominate the novel. Instead, friendships, alliances and monogamy do."

The committee unanimously voted to keep the novel in the library and said the book is appropriate for high school students and should be available for those students interested in this genre.

All board members gave their opinion on the appeal.

Hill said she read most of the book, noted it was not her type of book and said it was not a book she would have given her 15-year-old or 16-year-old to read.

"For me, I think it could have been a perfect book without the explicit details," Hill said.

She said in her mind, a book for young adults is for ages 18-25.

Warren also said he read the book but added he did not believe the material was out of context. He noted the committee thought the entire series should be available for students to read if they wanted.

"I didn't feel the material was something that needed to be restrictive," Warren said.

Petree said he believes if books are relocated to a restrictive area, it creates even more curiosity from students.

Blew and Vaughn both said they wanted to abide by the committee's recommendation.

"It's a popular fantasy series," Blew said. "I would like for the series to stay together."

Vaughn said he did not like some of the sections in the book but believed "the recommendation of the committee is where I should lay my hat."

In an email after the meeting, King said she finds it "upsetting and sad" that the school is not putting students' safety first.

"The statistics don't lie," King said in an email. "Exposing children and teens to sexually explicit content increases their chances of teen pregnancy, risky sexual behavior, sexual abuse, and can affect further intimate relationships negatively."

King said putting age restrictions on sexually explicit materials in schools is not book banning but common sense. The books can be found at the local public library for free if parents want their children to access them, she said.