Iowa School District Uses AI to Ban Books

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19 books have been pulled from Mason City, Iowa, school shelves after the school board used artificial intelligence to find books that violate Iowa’s Senate File 496

The legislation “[prohibits] instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation in school districts, charter schools, and innovation zone schools in kindergarten through grade six.”

The Mason City School Board turned to AI because “Our classroom and school libraries have vast collections, consisting of texts purchased, donated, and found. It is simply not feasible to read every book and filter for these new requirements. Therefore, we are using what we believe is a defensible process to identify books that should be removed from collections at the start of the 23-24 school year. After this, we will continue to rely on our long-established process that allows parents to have books reconsidered. We are confident this process will ensure the spirit of the law is enacted here in Mason City; parents will always have a voice in their students’ education,” according to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Bridgette Exman.

According to the district, a list of commonly challenged books were “filtered for challenges related to sexual content.” Those books were then scanned by AI software for sex acts and 19 books were identified for removal. 

The books removed from shelves, as reported by the Mason City Globe Gazette, are:

  1. Should parents or other adults be able to ban books from schools and libraries? Why or why not?
  2. Should artificial intelligence be used to determine which books are appropriate for school shelves? Explain your answer.
  3. Have you read any of the banned books above? Do you think the books were age-appropriate? Should other kids be able to read the books? Explain your answer(s).

Althea Legaspi, “Iowa School District Bans Books by Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood After AI Review for ‘Depictions of a Sex Act’,”, Aug.  14, 2023

Alexander Schmidt, “19 Books Pulled from Mason City School Libraries,”, Aug. 11, 2023