An additional 14 books currently available in the Kettle Run High School library have been submitted to the school system for review and reconsideration by the members of the parental activist group Moms for Liberty.
During a School Board meeting Aug. 22, Amie Bowman, a Scott District resident, and the treasurer of the local Moms for Liberty chapter, told board members that their group had submitted an additional 14 books for the school system to consider removing from its libraries because they contain “sexually explicit content.” The total list of books submitted by the group now totals 17 (listed below).
“Deogratias: A tale of Rwanda,” by Jean-Philippe Stassen
“Out of Darkness,” by Ashley Hope Pérez
“A court of mist and fury,” by Sarah J. Maas
“Girls Like Us,” by Cristina Alger
“Sold,” by Patricia McCormick
“Milk and Honey,” by Rupi Kaur
“Seeing Gender: An illustrated guide to identity and expression,” by Iris Gottlieb
“What Girls Are Made Of,” by Elana K. Arnold
“Almost Perfect,” by Brian Katcher
“Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” by Alison Bechdel
“Nineteen Minutes,” by Jodi Picoult
“Last Night at the Telegraph Club,” by Malinda Lo
“Crank,” by Ellen Hopkins
“Looking for Alaska,” John Green
“Fade,” by Robert Cormier
“Eleanor & Park,” by Rainbow Rowell
“Flamer,” by Mike Curato
According to Bowman, one of those books, "Deogratias," a historical fiction graphic novel that tells the story of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, is scheduled to be reviewed by Kettle Run staff on Aug. 29.
Bowman is claiming school administration and the Kettle Run principal, Meaghan Brill, have made the process of reviewing books difficult for parents to participate in. Bowman also says it's a slow-moving process.
Bowman claimed she and other complainants, who submitted "Deogratias" for review, asked Brill to reschedule the meeting date because of scheduling conflicts, but their request was rejected.
She also noted the full list of books could take potentially up to 17 months to review because only one book may be considered at a time.
“Unfortunately, the situation with Kettle Run has not been as pleasant to experience,” Bowman said.
According to the school system’s policy regarding complaints about books, after someone submits a “Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources” form to the principal, a review committee is established.
The policy says the committee must consist of the principal, the library media specialist, the classroom teacher (if involved), a parent and/or student and the complainant. The committee is then tasked with the following:
Read, view, or listen to the challenged material.
Read several reviews, if available.
Check standard selection aids.
Talk with persons who may be knowledgeable about the material in question and similar material.
Discuss the material.
Make a decision to recommend retaining or withdrawing the material.
File the recommendation of the committee with the principal and the division superintendent or his/her designee.
Notify the complainant of its recommendation and the disposition of the challenged material.
Tara Helkowski, director of communications and community engagement at Fauquier County Public Schools, told FauquierNow in an email the school system would “follow the process outlined in School Board Policy for each book, and the school-based review committee is just one step in the process.”
“We anticipate that the school-based review committee ... will need to meet several times for each book; therefore, the process may be lengthy,” she said. “While it will take some flexibility to coordinate meeting schedules for all involved, we are committed to working through the process with fidelity.”
Bowman said as of Thursday the school system has not rescheduled the Aug. 29 book review meeting.
“Given that the entire structure of the book review process pits the people who chose the book versus the people who are contesting the book, not having the other side of the meeting really reinforces the idea that the review committee has a rubber stamp to retain the book,” Bowman said.
Bowman also accused the school system of not having language defined in its policies to help them determine whether a book that contains “sexually explicit” or “pornographic” material reaches the threshold of having “literary merit.”
“There was no rubric for any of the concepts included in the definition nor scoring mechanism nor any discussion of how to evaluate books by the criteria in the definition,” she said. “Essentially, not only has [the school system] not been using a strict test of literary merit to make book purchasing decisions. They don't even have such a test.”
Bowman told FauquierNow in an email the school system provided her with the following definition of “literary merit” obtained from the site englishtextualconcepts.nsw.edu.au/: “Literary value does not include the values expressed or implied in a text but refers specifically to how one can attribute worth to a text in terms of its value to ‘civilisation’, a culture, a society, or a particular group of people. Each of these groups may attribute a different value to the text and use different criteria to do so.”
This definition does not appear in the school system’s official policy guidelines. But the school’s guidelines do address “sex and profanity”, which are subject to “a stern text of literary merit.”
The guidelines say that while “pornographic” and/or “sexual incidents or profanity” may not automatically disqualify a book from being accepted into a library’s collection, the decision to allow such content is determined based on whether “the book presents life in its true proportions, whether circumstances are realistically dealt with, and ... the book is of literary value. Factual material of an educational nature on the level of the reader shall be included in the literary collections.”
Bowman said during the meeting that the list of 17 books her group has submitted for removal is only “the tip of the iceberg” and noted that many more of the school system’s libraries also contain books with “sexually explicit material.”
Last month, FauquierNow reported a list of 47 books – 29 (61 percent) of which feature LGBTQ characters, themes, or discuss LGBT issues and six more that also explore issues of race, ethnicity, and/or having a disability – Bowman’s group was reviewing and considering for submission.
Five of those 47 books, including "Girls Like Us," "What Girls Are Made of," "Fun Home," "Last Night at the Telegraph Club" and "Flamer," have been submitted for reconsideration by the group.
Natalie Erdossy, a Scott District resident and vice chair of the Fauquier Moms for Liberty chapter,” told School Board members during the meeting “requesting sexually explicit content” be removed from school libraries “in no way impacts representation.” Rather, she said it ensures “the school library is a safe space for all children.”
“There are more than three dozen books in the FCPSOne library that we know of that present normalized LGBTQIA plus and minority experiences and do so without containing sexually explicit content,” she said. “Reasonable standards, age appropriateness are time tested and applicable here as they are with any other media available within our schools.”