The national debate over whether parents should be allowed to censor certain books from classrooms and libraries has spilled over into Fauquier County, and parents have begun using School Board meetings to not only air their grievances, but also to propose bans of their own.
During Monday's School Board meeting, several parents clashed over a proposal by a local chapter of a national parental rights organization, Moms for Liberty, to remove multiple books the group claims to contain “sexually explicit content” from school libraries.
Several parents belonging to the group, including Scott District resident Amie Bowman, Moms for Liberty’s treasurer, said their members have identified several books students are able to access through certain school libraries that they claim traumatize children and teens. The group also claims the books facilitate “long-term sex-related behavioral problems.”
“There's no question that sexually explicit content, including graphic descriptions of rape, molestation and incest, is in our schools,” Bowman said during the meeting on Monday. “[Fauquier] librarians and administrators are not contesting that fact. The point of disagreement is in whether the literary merit of these books outweighs the lewd nature of the content … ”
Although there has been no formal list of books published on the Moms for Liberty website or social media pages, FauquierNow reviewed screenshots of a list of 47 books (listed below) that several parents belonging to the group volunteered to review using the site Signupgenius.com.
An analysis by FauquierNow found that out of the 47 books reviewed by parents, 29 (61 percent) of them feature LGBTQ characters, themes or discuss LGBT issues. Six books in the list also explore issues of race, ethnicity and/or having a disability.
Bowman and other members of Moms for Liberty did not respond to FauquierNow’s request for a full list of books the group is attempting to remove, and the Signupgenius.com website parents were using to review books has since been taken down. However, Bowman noted in an email to FauquierNow that “the process of reviewing books and filing forms requesting the removal of materials that do not meet FCPS1 guidelines is ongoing and will be a long-term project.”
Kim Ritter, who recently retired as supervisor of Library and Media Services of Fauquier County Public Schools, told the School Board during its June 13 meeting that although certain books in libraries are controversial, that does not always mean they should be prohibited.
“There are books that a parent is not going to want for their child. That is reality,” Ritter said. “And we invite you to come and have conversations with the librarian where a book might reside. And then there is a process for you to file a reconsideration.”
According to Fauquier County School Board’s policy 6-5.1, the procedure for filing a complaint about instructional/learning materials is as follows:
- Any complaint should be filed in writing with the principal on the “Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources” form, which may be obtained from the principal or the central office.
- A committee consisting of the principal, the library media specialist, the classroom teacher (if involved), a parent and/or student and the complainant will convene and then review the complaint.
- During the process of reconsideration, the learning resource will remain available for use.
If the complaint is rejected, the complainant may appeal to the superintendent and then the School Board. The decision of the School Board is the final judgment, and the challenged material must then be retained or withdrawn for a period of three full school years following the final decision.
Ritter said school libraries that serve students from pre-K through 12th grade possess a wide range of books that reflect those age ranges. Nonetheless, she noted that younger students are sometimes precluded from checking out certain books that are reserved for older students.
The school system's policy for allowing certain books that contain “sex and profanity” are “subjected to a stern test of literary merit … community standards, the laws and accepted public moral standards,” according to the school's policy guidelines for book selection.
And while pornography, profanity and sexual incidents “shall not automatically disqualify a book,” the policy states that the decision to include a book in the library's collection “shall be made on the basis of whether the book presents life in its true proportions, whether circumstances are realistically dealt with, and whether the book is of literary value.”
Several parents opposed removing certain books from school libraries, including Center District resident Margreta Grady, who also spoke during the School Board meeting on Monday.
Grady and others argued removing books that “highlight” the experiences of marginalized and underrepresented populations in society may also do harm to students who belong to those groups.
“I think it's very important that we as a community trust our educators to do what's best for our children,” Grady said. “I understand the previous speakers’ concerns. But I think when there are disagreements in the community, we need to solve those in a neighborly way rather than a blanket ban.”
Marshall District resident Mary Brown Haak echoed Grady’s comments and said that the ability to read books from the perspective of a “Black, transgender, gay, disabled, undocumented, or poverty-stricken person” is “the best way to gain insight into the lives and challenges facing others …”
“I would maintain learning our full history and learning about the experiences of people outside of our own group brings us closer together,” she said.
Here’s the full list of books that were being informally reviewed/considered for removal by parents:
- "The Hazards of Love," by Stan Stanley
- "Image and Identity: Becoming the Person You Are," by Kris Gowen
- "The full spectrum: A new generation of writing about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and other identities," by David Leviathan and Billy Merrell
- "Gender Identity: The ultimate teen guide," by Cynthia Winfield
- "Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in transition," by Katie Rain Hill
- "I am Jazz," by Jessica Herthel
- "Alex as Well," by Alyssa Brugman
- "Wildthorn," by Jane England
- "Lobizona," by Romina Garber
- "Girls Man Up," by M-E Girard
- "The Goldsmith’s Daughter," by Tanya Landman
- "Ruin of Stars," by Linsey Miller
- "Ramona Blue," by Julie Murphy
- "Fever Crumb," by Philip Reeve
- "Scavenge the Stars," by Tara Slim
- "Grasshopper Jungle," by Andrew Smith
- "Dress Codes for Small Towns," by Courtney Stevens
- "The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea," by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
- "Ironhead, or, Once a Young Lady," by Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem
- "Brown: The Last Discovery of America," by Richard Rodriguez
- "Ana on the Edge," by A.J. Sass
- "The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club," by Alex Bell
- "A Song Only I Can Hear," by Barry Jonsberg
- "The Deep & Dark Blue," by Niki Smith
- "One Half from the East," by Nadia Hashimi
- "Crane," by Jeff Stone
- "Rick," by Alex Gino
- "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic," by Alison Bechdel
- "City of Thieves," by David Benioff
- "Be Gay, Do Comics," by Matt Bors (Editor); et al
- "A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer Identities," by Maddie Gulliani
- "This One Summer," by Mariko Tamaki
- "We Are the Ants," by David Hutchinson
- "The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini
- "More Happy Than Not," by Adam Silvera
- "What Girls Are Made of," by Elana Arnold
- "So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed," by Jon Ronson
- "Last Night at the Telegraph Club," by Malinda Lo
- "Flamer," by Mike Curato
- "Girls Like Us," by Gail Giles
- "A Bike Like Sergios," by Maribeth Boelts
- "A Boy Called Bat," Elana Arnold
- "A Court of Thorns and Roses," Sarah Maas
- "A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin," by Jennifer Bryant
- "Ace of Spades," by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
- "An Ocean A Part, a World Away," by Lensey Namioka