A Virginia school district’s new superintendent decided Wednesday to remove 14 sexually explicit books from school libraries and donate them to the county government’s public library system.
The 14 “young adult” novels to be removed from libraries in Spotsylvania County Public Schools by order of Superintendent Mark Taylor, on the job since Nov. 1, include:
- “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto” by George Johnson
- “Like a Love Story” by Abdi Nazemian
- “Dime” by E. R. Frank
- “Sold” by Patricia McCormick
- “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez
- “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
- “America” by E. R. Frank
- “Looking for Alaska” by John Green
- “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky
- “Water for Elephants” by Sarah Gruen
- “Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe” by Preston Norton
- “More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera
- “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
- “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult
It is not clear whether the Spotylvania County government’s library system would accept copies of the 14 books from the school system, or place restrictions on minors’ access to them if it does. A committee of school district staff consulted by Taylor had defended the 14 titles.
A detailed complaint filed by local parent Jennifer Petersen outlines excerpts from these 14 novels that include questionable content for a school library.
“All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto” includes a detailed scene in which the author (age 13) is molested, both receiving and giving oral sex to his cousin (age 17 or 18). The author also describes several other obscene sexual scenes.
“Dime” contains explicit scenes describing the statutory rape and prostitution of a 13-year-old, who expresses joy at losing her virginity to her pimp, “Daddy.”
“America” contains several disturbing scenes in which the 15-year-old main character is raped, describes his erections and how excited he gets by seeing both boys and girls naked, and relishes how no one can stop him from imagining rape:
“The Bluest Eye” contains several instances of characters fantasizing and experiencing incest, rape, and pedophilia. Morrison spends considerable time with many scenes intimately describing sex with children.
The effort to ban sexually explicit content from public school libraries isn’t unique to Spotsylvania County, Virginia, which is about 67 miles south of the nation’s capital. Parents and teachers around the country recently have questioned the placement of explicit books in school libraries that romanticize sexual abuse and describe or picture intimate sexual acts.
Picture books in which small children question their sexuality and express a different “gender identity” have flooded libraries around the nation in the past few years as LGBTQ+ activist groups reach out to younger audiences.
Missouri, Texas, Utah, and Virginia all recently passed measures limiting sexual content in public school curriculum and pedagogy.
Virginia law specifically states that local public schools must notify parents of “sexually explicit instructional material,” permit parents to review the material, and provide an “alternative to instructional material and related academic activities that include sexually explicit content, nonexplicit instructional material and related academic activities to any student whose parent so requests.”
Taylor, the superintendent, reasons in a memo issued Wednesday that the definition of instructional materials “includes library resources” in Spotsylvania County Public Schools libraries—and so those books are subject to parental and committee review.
Following the parental complaint made by Petersen, the Spotsylvania school district appointed a committee of school staff members to review the 14 books.
Taylor notes in his memo that, regardless of the sexually explicit content, the staff committee suggested that all 14 of the books remain in school libraries.
But Taylor disagreed with those findings, writing that it is “indisputable” that the 14 books contain graphic sexual content as defined by Virginia law:
As used in this new law, ‘sexually explicit content’ means (i) any description of or (ii) any picture, photograph, drawing, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting sexual bestiality, a lewd exhibition of nudity, as nudity is defined in § 18.2-390, sexual excitement, sexual conduct or sadomasochistic abuse, as also defined in § 18.2-390, coprophilia, urophilia, or fetishism.
The superintendent also noted the difficulty of creating controlled spaces in each school library to store “sexually explicit books” that would be reviewed and curated from among over 300,000 books in the Spotsylvania school system’s library for students to check out upon request with parental permission:
The full control over sexually explicit books that is required to comply with the law would necessitate setting aside secure, controlled space in each library to store the sexually explicit books and a system to make them available to students only upon request and after checking for any parental prohibition. This would be a cumbersome and time-consuming process at best. We have no funds budgeted for the creation of secure, controlled spaces in our libraries for sexually explicit books. I am concerned also that our SCPS librarians are already stretched thin and lack the workload capacity to provide the mandated notifications, track objections, and implement parental prohibitions.
Critics have claimed that removing any book from a public school library is tantamount to book-banning, fascist practices.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union, has called efforts to ban explicit books a “culture war designed primarily to goose conservative turnout at election time.”
Weingarten apparently has defended the “young adult” graphic novel “Gender Queer,” which contains illustrations of a child giving oral sex to an elderly man. The union president accused Republicans of “banning books and bullying vulnerable children,” also blaming them for the number of teachers leaving the profession.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in January 2022 against the Wentzville School District in Missouri for removing Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.” One month later, the Wentzville school board voted to reinstate the novel. The school district previously removed over 300 books after the Missouri Legislature passed a bill banning sexually explicit books from schools.
Taylor’s proposed solution in Virginia’s Spotsylvania school district is to move all copies of the 14 sexually explicit books from the school libraries into the county government’s public libraries:
Moreover, it is also apparent that no law requires SCPS [Spotsylvania County Public Schools] to keep books that include sexually explicit content in our school libraries. To the contrary, the only mandated sexually explicit instructional content in the Commonwealth of Virginia is (or is supposed to be) the Family Life Education curriculum materials prescribed by the state. Clearly, there is no information suggesting that any of the 14 books listed above is part of the Commonwealth’s Family Life Education curriculum.
I find that none of the 14 books listed above truly needs to be included in any SCPS school library. So, having met with the complainant [Petersen], it is my decision and direction on our further course of action as a division … that all 14 of the books listed above are to be excluded from our SCPS school libraries. All copies of these books are to be removed from our libraries and delivered to the School Board Office, and I will recommend that they be declared surplus property and donated to a public library.
This move appears to provide access to students whose parents grant permission to read the 14 explicit books, while keeping sexually explicit content out of Spotsylvania County’s school libraries.
Given the chaos of prior Spotsylvania County school board meetings, this memorandum is almost certain to make the next one quite the battle.
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