A Virginia public school library has stirred controversy by introducing a diverse library collection that include sexually graphic messages and foul language.
The new collections were created by the Loundoun County Public School’s teachers and administrators with the intention of diversifying authorship and subject material, according to the Loundoun Times-Mirror. Over 90 percent of the new collection is categorized as “Diverse Race, Culture, Language, [and] Religion” with 2-3 percent as “Disabilities/Abilities” and 5 percent labeled “LGBTQ.” But many parents have found that some of the new books are not age-appropriate.
“Erotic descriptions of sexual activity, including fondling, a kissing scene between three men, orgasms, masturbation, and sexual intercourse are also included in the diverse classroom libraries. Students are being deliberately exposed to this stuff. You have a duty to remove it,” said meeting attendee and parent Natassia Grover.
Loudoun Now reports that one book, Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit, contains 49 f-words.
The school board held a meeting in September over the concerns in which several parents demanded the removal of the books. One school librarian in support of the books pointed out that the previous collections featured largely “white and heteronormative characters” and schools must diversify.
Shortly after the meeting, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sent a letter to the school board claiming the First Amendment does not give the board the right to remove “controversial, unpopular, or offensive” books.
“Purging certain books from school libraries because some parents do not like them is government action favoring the opinion of some parents over others,” said ACLU Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga. “In fact, bending to the will of any number of vocal parents could lead to a narrower and narrower list of books for students to read on a more and more homogeneous set of topics, adversely affecting the rights of those students and parents who want a more expansive and inclusive reading list from which to choose.”
She also cited concerns that removing the books would mean that teachers would “miss out on opportunities to engage in a dialogue about the historical peril in which a book was written, the author’s individual viewpoints, and the use of literary devices, all of which may play a part in how a group or individual is depicted.”
However, Superintendent Eric Williams believes that parents should have been better informed before introducing the books to the library. Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Ashely Ellis agrees, though she is still in support of the diverse collection.
The school board held a second meeting following the letter, in which 13 concerned parents offered a rebuttal.
“The [United States Supreme] Court has acknowledged that the rights of minors are not equal to the rights of adults, considering the vulnerability of children, their immaturity and the importance of parents in child-rearing,” Bradley Blinn said. “At what point does educational value turn to sexual advocacy? My overarching concern is we are presenting this material to immature, vulnerable young kids without parental approval, formal notification or the ability to opt out.”
But supporters of the diverse library believe that the different books on race and religion can encourage students to a wider viewpoint.
“I have seen first-hand the power of providing diverse, independent-reading books to readers,” said Laura Gray, a reading specialist at Park View High School. “They are the hardest titles to keep on the shelves. To succeed in twenty-first-century careers and society, LCPS students must learn to be both academically and culturally literate…When we see someone like us, we feel less alone. When we encounter characters that are not like us, we learn compassion and understanding.”
To date, the school board has not issued any intention of removing the diverse library collection.
Photo courtesy: Priscilla du Peez/Unsplash
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine. She blogs at mikaelamathews.com.