Editor's note: This is part of a multi-part series on the 2024 city and school board election. Find the full city/school election coverage here.

Simplified: Five people are vying for two open seats on the board that oversees the largest school district in the state. Sioux Falls Simplified sat down with all five candidates to get their take on issues relevant to local schools.

Why it matters

  • As book bans become an increasingly prevalent topic for school boards nationwide, we asked school board candidates their take on how to approach decisions about the types of books and materials to which students have access.

A quick note: Candidates are listed in the order in which they appear on the Sioux Falls School District election page. Answers are edited for length and clarity.

Nationally, it's becoming more common for school boards to face decisions about book bans and curriculum. What's your philosophy on those conversations?

Marc Murren: "That's an easy one for me. I think things have to be age appropriate, but in that same line, we have a policy. We've had a policy for years.

  • If you don't like a book, you bring it to us. We have taken books off the shelf, and we have have left some on. What frustrates me is when you bring me a letter of 250 books from some organization.
  • If you don't want your child to have a book that is covered by material, all you have to do is tell the librarian, and when your child goes to check out a book you deem inappropriate, they won't check it out to them."

Gail Swenson: "First of all, I trust our librarians, and I trust teachers with their content.

  • The Sioux Falls School District has a policy if a parent has any concerns."

Bobbie Tibbetts: "We have policies in place that you can monitor what your kids are reading ... I do put the trust in the librarian," she said, adding that parents do have control over what materials their kids have access to in school.

Stuart Willett: "There's lots of really good books that we could be reading. We don't have to have books that are really pornographic and offensive and graphic. That doesn't make sense to me. No one's banning books – you can buy whatever you want on amazon.com and give it to your kids."

  • "The reason they want these graphic LGBT books is because the kids don't see themselves – they want to have a book they can see themselves in." Willett noted that he's a Christian, and he understands why kids in public schools aren't taught the bible.
  • When asked if he was equating pornographic books with LGBTQ+ books, Willett said, "I'm not knowledgable enough about it to know. The books I've heard someone read, they were graphic descriptions of what i would consider pornographic, sexual (content). ... My standard is this, if we have a book in the school library, it shouldn't cause great offense to read it at a school board meeting."

Patrick Starr: "It comes down to parents. You have the right to determine what your child reads or how they learn math. You don't have a right to determine what others' kids do. You have to be an active participant."