Iowa schools reverse ‘Friday Night Lights’ ban after AI backlash

Middle and high schoolers in Northern Iowa can check out copies of a best-selling classic after all.Mason City Community School District officials confirmed last week they would reverse a previously announced ban on Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream written by Philadelphia author and former Inquirer reporter H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger.The short-lived ban — which went in and out of effect before school started for students — was part of school officials’ attempts to comply with a new state law that requires books available to Iowa students to be “age appropriate” and free of “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act.”» READ MORE: An Iowa school district used ChatGPT to ban Buzz Bissinger’s ‘Friday Night Lights.’ He’s not happy.Citing a lack of resources along with the tight deadline for the law’s enforcement — which makes teachers personally liable for allowing students access to books parents take issue with — the school district used artificial intelligence, specifically ChatGPT, to audit books in the library.The chatbot — which tech experts say is not always accurate — advised that 19 books violated the new state law, prompting Bissinger to speak out.“This is a great book for high school kids,” Bissinger — who criticized the new law but also the school district’s use of AI for enforcement — told The Inquirer. “This idea that high school students can’t handle anything that’s out of the vanilla mainstream is a joke.”School officials told The Inquirer that media specialists and other administrators would review the 19 flagged books, including Friday Night Lights, themselves.Bridgette Exman, the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction — and a former English teacher — said she previously read the book “for joy” and was rereading it herself after Bissinger’s criticism.Exman told The Inquirer that Friday Night Lights along with two other books, National Book Award-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian and Killing Mr. Griffin, would be reinstated in the school district’s catalog.“After compiling the list of commonly challenged books, and doing the AI review, we attempted to verify specific passages that violate Iowa SF 496 in each of the books,” Exman said. “We were able to use sources like Book Looks and Common Sense Media for 13 of the 19 books. For some of the remaining six books, we used detailed summaries to narrow down chapters or sections to be read and verified. For others, we simply read or reread them in their entirety.”Books that remain banned in Mason City schools include National Book Award-winning The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved by Toni Morrison.But while copies of Friday Night Lights are allowed to be checked out, Exman clarified that they’re not available just yet. The ban prompted her to discover the school district’s library copy was in “pretty pitiful condition.”“[It was] obviously well-read based on the tattered, torn, and taped nature of it. Clearly a ‘Velveteen Rabbit’ in our library,” she said. “Because of that, I will be purchasing new copies for our middle and high school libraries.”

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