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After committee votes to keep controversial books on the shelf, Urbandale parent plans to sue the district

Dennis Murphy says the books in question are vulgar, pornographic, and racially insensitive. He says he and other parents are working with lawmakers on legislation.

URBANDALE, Iowa — On Monday, an Urbandale Community School District review committee voted to keep five books on school shelves. The review process was started after an official complaint was filed by parent Dennis Murphy.

Murphy, along with parents across a number of other metro school districts, believe the books in question contain vulgar, pornographic, and racially insensitive material.

The books Murphy takes issue with are "Hey Kiddo", "The Absolute Truth of a Part Time Indian", "Lawn Boy", "Gender Queer" and "All Boys Aren't Blue".

"We were disappointed obviously," Murphy said about the committee's decision. "I wouldn't say it's all that surprising."

The committee is compromised of teachers, students, community members, a teacher, librarian and an administrator. In a statement to Local 5 News, a district spokesperson said the members read all five books over the past month. 

The statement goes on to read:

"On December 13, the committee held a public meeting in order to listen to presentations and engage in a discussion about each book. The discussions centered around two main questions from the instructional materials reconsideration document which were, “What harmful effects upon students might result from the use of this material?” and “What is the instructional value that results from the use or availability of this material?” The committee considered each book separately and voted in favor of retaining the materials for use as planned. The committee will now submit their recommendation to high school administration in accordance with UCSD Board Policy 627."

Murphy says while he was not surprised by the committee's decision, the fight over this material is far from over. 

"Wednesday, we'll be meeting to start to proceedings for a lawsuit," he said.

Murphy says the lawsuit, which will name the Urbandale Community School District as the defendant, will argue the books in question are pornographic, vulgar and racially insensitive. He says concerned parents like himself have met with Gov. Kim Reynolds to voice their issues. 

He adds the group is working with other legislative leaders, like Senate President Jake Chapman, to propose legislation that would punish educators.

"Making this a felony versus misdemeanor to have the either distribute teach or  have that material in any way in this in the school," Murphy said.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver says he cannot comment on the potential legislation, as he hasn't seen an official proposal just yet.

"Looking at some of the things that are in the books that we that we found in some of those schools, it is concerning as a parent," Whitver told Loacl 5. "It's concerning what to do about it is the bigger question. And there's processes in place in a lot of these schools to address that as is. Do we need to change that legislatively? I don't know yet."

RELATED: Urbandale Community School District parent raises concerns over book his son brought home from school

RELATED: District: controversial books at Waukee school could be under review for up to 45 days

Other lawmakers see the potential legislation as a dangerous slippery slope. 

"We started saying it's going to be a felony to own or distribute a book when you're a teacher," said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst. "First of all, pause and think about that sentence. And second of all, what is next? What book is next? And to imagine a world in which we're banning books is really the start of something I don't think we want to get into."

A similar sentiment is shared by the American Library Association

"When we use censorship as a tool, it's really an abandonment of all our democratic values that we say we hold dear," said American Library  Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom Director. "But in fact, when we engage in this kind of censorship, whether it's in the school library or the public library, we're teaching lessons in censorship that we ought not be teaching."

Murphy says he will appeal the committee's decision. Following their decision, he anticipates filing the lawsuit in January.

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