Onslow County parents are divided over a recent issue regarding what some say is inappropriate and graphic content in school library books.
Angie Todd, a newly elected member of the board of education, shared her concerns in late October, saying she made a “heartbreaking” discovery as a result of a freedom of information request. Todd claimed that Dixon High School allows students to check out books from school libraries that contain what she called “graphic content” without parental consent.
Todd added that he discovered a similar list of ‘graphic’ books at another Onslow County secondary school. The list of books he included in a press release had topics ranging from LGBTQIA+ issues to abuse and other adult topics.
Some of the books Todd referred to include titles like Boy Meets Boy, A Complicated Love Story Set in Space, Homosexuality, Two Boys Kissing, Gay Power: The Stonewall Riots and The Gay Rights Movement of 1969, Autoboyography, LGBTQ: The Survival Guide for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning teens who look like me.
“I believe that parents should be the decisive force in allowing children to read mature topics,” Todd said in an October statement. “I think we can do better as a community and honor the rights of parents and protect the innocence of our students.”
Todd proposed that, at a minimum, these books be removed from the shelves until the student has written permission from a parent or guardian.
Several parents and members of the public spoke at a November 1 Board of Education meeting on both sides of the issue, focusing primarily on the issue related to LGBTQIA issues.
“Part of our responsibility is to educate our children in such a way that they can go out into the world and be productive citizens,” Kenyatta Euring, a resident of Onslow County, said during the meeting. “I agree that parents should have a say in what their children are exposed to, however any solution we find that removes performance rights from any other group of students is the wrong solution. All children need to see each other represented in the books they read, the things they look at, their education, etc.
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Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center director Dennis Biancuzzo said he has heard many use the terms obscene and immoral when referring to some of the themes in the books. He does not agree to the use of those terms.
“Any books that are not age-appropriate should be removed from libraries,” Biancuzzo said. “The problem lies in what people consider age-appropriate. We have parents who want to turn a blind eye to the reality of their teens’ lives. Books that talk about age-appropriate sexuality and gender nonconformity They are appropriate for teen age children.”
Board of Education member Melissa Oakley said her personal feelings regarding the lifestyle of someone depicted in a book are not necessarily conducive to the actual reason a book may be withdrawn, which is based on the guidelines of the American Library Association.
She added that there are things they have to go through when looking at what would be considered inappropriate, wondering if the material is really explicit or if it’s personal bias.
“I fully understand where parents come from,” Oakley said. “In the meeting, I try to convey everything from a board member’s point of view based on how we would be forced to review the materials if we looked at them and that’s literally from an unbiased lens and constitutional perspective per ALA guidelines. we have in our policy that was just reviewed and approved.
Onslow County resident Kimberly Jimmerson also spoke at the meeting, saying that as a mother of children in the LGBTQIA community, she believes that all identities deserve representation.
Samantha Johnson, another local resident and pastor, said school libraries are an invaluable resource for young people. Without access to some of these books, she said, students will turn to the Internet and social media where the information is not screened or selected.
“These books that have been listed, rather than being a list of books that we prohibit or can only be accessed with permission, are, in my opinion, some of the most valuable books in these school libraries,” Johnson said. “They offer a vulnerable population, our LGBTQIA+ teens, trusted resources that they can view or consult to understand the questions that are already being asked.”
Rachel Panos, an Onslow County resident and mother of two in the Onslow County school system, told the meeting that she does not want her children, or any child, to be subjected to the “perversions and sexualizations” she says , has allowed the board. She said the board must stop robbing children of their innocence, “let children be children.”
Oakley stressed again that the board can’t just start pulling books off the shelves. There are processes they have to go through and guidelines they have to follow. He also highlighted the many books outside of the LGBTQ genre that have also been banned in recent years.
“When you look at it from both sides of the line with the political spectrum, we are banning books everywhere,” Oakley said. “My question is, at the end of the day, when do we stop? From what I see, before I’m done, my grandchildren will be growing up in schools where there are no books on the shelves because someone somewhere found something offensive.”
Oakley said she understands the outrage of parents who don’t want their children to read pornographic material or view images of people engaged in sexual activity. She said that she agrees that it is wrong. However, she added that she is also okay with it being wrong regardless of whether she is straight or gay.
“If it’s sexually explicit, it’s sexually explicit regardless of which side of the line,” Oakley said. “What I see happening here is that, across the state and across the country, there’s only one genre of books that people focus on when, really, there are books beyond that genre that have some explicit stuff. “.
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So what is the solution?
Oakley said he would not oppose permission slips as a solution.
She said she has called other North Carolina board members who have already faced this problem and many of them went the permission slip route, saying it worked. She said she also wouldn’t be opposed to having some sort of media committee where community members and residents of different demographics and dynamics come to the table so all voices can be represented and heard.
“Parents have rights, they just have to exercise them,” Oakley said. “I think a lot of the problem we’re dealing with is that parents aren’t really sure what their rights are and then they don’t know how to exercise them and to what extent they can exercise them when they have them. .”
In accordance with Onslow County Board of Education Policy Code 3210: Parental Inspection and Objection to Instructional Materials, the board provides opportunities for parents to review instructional materials and to object to the use of the materials.
“Parents have the right, under federal law, to inspect all instructional materials to be used in connection with any survey, analysis, or evaluation as part of any applicable federally funded program,” the policy states. “Parents can generally review all other instructional materials as well by following procedures provided by the school or superintendent.”
The policy also states that if the principal or the school media review committee determines that any material violates the constitutional or other legal rights of the parent or student, the principal or the school media review committee will remove educational use material. or accommodate the individual student and parent.
“The decision of the committee or the principal may be appealed to the superintendent,” the policy says. “The superintendent’s decision may be appealed to the board. The superintendent will develop the necessary administrative procedures to implement this policy.”
Onslow County Schools Director of Technology Jeff Pittman and OCS Director of Digital Teaching and Learning Stephen Taylor said the board’s past and current policies regarding this topic have worked well in the past. past, adding that the process in place allows students, parents, and community members to express their specific concerns, while also ensuring that the media center has a diverse and age-appropriate collection.
“OCS Media Coordinators consult national and state resources, such as the North Carolina School Library Media Association, the School Library Journal, and others for recommendations on book lists that include criteria such as complexity of reading and suggestions on appropriateness for specific grade level configurations,” Pittman and Taylor said. “Media coordinators also take into account factors such as circulation statistics, the local interests of their community, and recommendations from staff, students, and the community at large.
Reporter Morgan Starling can be reached at [email protected]