Sunday, October 2, 2022

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Speakers tell school board: keep LGBTQ books in school libraries

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Alamance-Burlington school board members heard Monday night from five ABSS employees and one parent, criticizing a recent request to remove what one local resident insists are “obscene” books from ABSS school libraries.

Mamie Brooks of Graham told school board members in June that a group she and her husband, Anthony Brooks, had formed, called FACTS 2.0 task force (or Fairness and Accountability in Classrooms for Teachers & Students) had located dozens of books in ABSS school libraries that the group believes are thematically-inappropriate for students.

Anthony and Mamie Brooks have questioned, during earlier public comments to the school board and in separate interviews with the newspaper, whether it’s appropriate for ABSS school libraries to offer explicit books, including those seen as promoting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) sexuality, particularly in elementary schools.

In all, the school board’s first monthly business meeting of the new school year drew 17 people who signed up to speak during the public comments period, which ran nearly an hour Monday night. Ten other speakers voiced support for hiring high school athletic trainers, increasing daily pay rates for substitute teachers, and touched on other issues during the school board’s public comments period Monday night (see related story, this edition).

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Though she didn’t specifically address the “book challenge,” Dorothy Yarborough of the Alamance County NAACP chapter expressed general support for fostering an “inclusive” learning environment, which she said had been one of the goals outlined in a strategic plan developed for ABSS several years ago.

Speakers who said they opposed the effort to remove the books from ABSS libraries included: Williams High School teacher Robert Alvis; Eastern High School teacher and the 2022 ABSS teacher of the year Medora Burke-Scoll; Southern High School media coordinator Beth Bruch; Williams High School teacher Ashley Grantham; ABSS lead high school media coordinator Tim Johnson; and ABSS parent Megan Ray.

 

Overview of ABSS policy governing book challenges
Meanwhile, ABSS chief technology officer Dennis Frye said in reviewing the process for filing a book challenge, that only a parent, student, or employee may do so. ABSS has a “robust policy” in place that governs the process of filing an objection, he said Monday night, noting that no such challenge had been filed during his eight years with ABSS, or in his 28-year career in education.

The ABSS policy outlines the following: Parents, students, or staff may submit a written objection regarding the use of particular instructional materials to the school principal, who shall “try to resolve the complaint informally” by explaining the selection process for the material. If the informal step fails to resolve the complaint, then a parent, student, or employee may file a formal request for reconsideration with the school media director and other school administrators. Any decision by the advisory committee can be appealed further up the chain of command (to the superintendent and school board), based on the policy.

“So, it has to be a parent with a student enrolled in ABSS?” school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves asked.

“It has to be a parent with a student enrolled, a student, or an employee,” the technology officer said.

The ABSS policy indicates that parents, students, and employees have a process to use when they object to instructional materials; a separate form for requesting reconsideration of materials states that a “citizen” may do so.

“A parent can opt to have their child be in a separate setting,” Frye said, meaning parents can have their child excluded from instruction that involves materials they deem objectionable.
“Those in the community who are parents have a process,” said school board member Tony Rose. “I think our policy covers it. I would take out the ‘citizen’ language out [from the ABSS form for filing an objection, currently titled, Citizen’s Request for Reconsideration of Educational Media] because that’s something not available to every citizen.”

School board member Wayne Beam, a retired ABSS principal and administrator, said that, during his tenure, “the vast majority” of such complaints had been resolved during the informal review by the school principal.

Mamie Brooks told the board in June that her group had found age-inappropriate and/or explicit books in 22 ABSS school libraries and would be emailing each school board member a spreadsheet, detailing the availability by school. She also said “F.A.C.T.S. 2.0” has partnered with a nonprofit group, Pavement Education Project, which opposes K-12 educational materials and books ranging “from explicit to inexplicit sexual activities including but not limited to rape, incest, and hook up dating,” according to the Pavement group. Requests for reconsideration of the use of this material are forthcoming, Mamie Brooks told the school board in June.

Ashley Grantham, who lives at 281 Canary Place in Burlington and teaches English at Williams High School, was unsparing in his criticism of any future book challenge in his public comments to the board Monday night.

Ashley Grantham

“We as educators, librarians, counselors, parents are responsible for opening the door to our children’s process and to show them their infinite future – a world of limitless imagination, progress, and momentum. . .

“That is the ultimate goal of policies that limit the vast expanse of LGBTQ+ materials, programming, content: to turn us back into a closet where normal or good, decent people don’t have to see us; and I am going to tell you that I am living proof, as are so many other people in this room, we are here, we are seen, and we will be heard, and we will give that to your children, as well.

“What future do you want for our children? Because I can tell you, I ain’t going back in the closet.  I’m not stopping being the loving, inclusive and diverse person that I am, and neither are my colleagues. We are not going to stop telling your children just how special, creative, and possible they are.”

– Ashley Grantham

“I understand there have been some voices that have attempted to introduce ideas that books be removed from our school libraries or community programs that feature authentic, diverse, and inclusive – read LGBTQ+ – books, Grantham said. “This as an educator and human being is absolutely appalling to me. I do applaud this board who in their intention speaks to the beliefs and diverse viewpoints of our community; thank you for making that statement. The idea that for educators, that many of us from the LGBTQ+ community would ‘indoctrinate’ children or attempt to ‘groom them’ in any way is repugnant and demands vociferous opposition.

“My job as an educator is to make sure that our students are seen, heard, represented in the books, music, media, programming that our libraries offer, that we teach in our classrooms – that I teach in my classroom,” Grantham said. “The library, English department, bookstores are worlds of imagination for our children – and if you attempt to deny them that, to parent someone else’s children, to engage in policies that limit the imagination, is starving the creative brain of oxygen.

“We as educators, librarians, counselors, parents are responsible for opening the door to our children’s process and to show them their infinite future – a world of limitless imagination, progress, and momentum,” said Grantham.

“That is the ultimate goal of policies that limit the vast expanse of LGBTQ+ materials, programming, content: to turn us back into a closet where normal or good, decent people don’t have to see us; and I am going to tell you that I am living proof, as are so many other people in this room, we are here, we are seen, and we will be heard, and we will give that to your children, as well,” Grantham continued.

“What future do you want for our children?” Grantham asked. “Because I can tell you, I ain’t going back in the closet. I’m not stopping being the loving, inclusive and diverse person that I am, and neither are my colleagues. We are not going to stop telling your children just how special, creative, and possible they are.”

Southern High School media coordinator Beth Bruch, who lives at 204 Pineview Road in Graham, said Monday night that the efforts by F.A.C.T.S. 2.0 is part of a “national campaign targeting local school districts across the country currently working to take away intellectual freedom from ABSS parents and students. FACTS 2.0 wants to take away this local autonomy.”

Bruch surmised that “we all agree on wanting our ABSS students to read.”

Beth Bruch

“Personally, I want students to face some discomforting topics, through books rather than experience, while they’re in high school and while they hopefully have a strong support network of families who love them, educators who support them, and access to those in their community who genuinely care about their well-being and their personal growth.”

– Beth Bruch

“I want them to read for fun as life-long learners,” Bruch noted. “Pushing an agenda on them would interfere with that goal. If a student selects any given book to check out, nobody is forcing any other student to read it; honestly, I’m happy if that student reads it.

“I also want to make books reflecting various aspects of our student identities accessible to all our students,” Bruch said Monday night. “Some people are concerned about the comfort of some of our students, to the point where they will prioritize it over other students’ safety and sense of belonging. Personally, I want students to face some discomforting topics, through books rather than experience, while they’re in high school and while they hopefully have a strong support network of families who love them, educators who support them, and access to those in their community who genuinely care about their well-being and their personal growth.”

Tim Johnson, who is the lead high school media coordinator for ABSS and lives at 3041 Perrin Drive in Haw River, said he’s proud of his role as an ABSS librarian and that the process for selecting supplementary (classroom) materials and library books mirrors guidelines established by the state Department of Public Instruction and consistent among all ABSS school libraries.

Tim Johnson

“I take very seriously my responsibility…to place principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of the material of the highest quality in order to ensure a comprehensive collection of material appropriate for all users.”

– Tim Johnson

“I take very seriously my responsibility…to place principle above personal opinion and reason above prejudice in the selection of the material of the highest quality in order to ensure a comprehensive collection of material appropriate for all users,” Johnson said.

Brooks didn’t speak during the public comments portion of the school board’s meeting Monday night, although she was present in the audience. Brooks confirmed for The Alamance News during a break in the school board’s meeting that she has not yet filed a formal objection to each of the books but intends to do so later this fall.


See earlier coverage of the book controversy, both in ABSS school and at county’s public libraries: https://alamancenews.com/lgbtq-book-displays-at-abss-and-public-libraries-draw-concerns-particularly-when-aimed-at-young-children/


Read the newspaper’s editorial page opinion on the controversy:  https://alamancenews.com/why-such-an-obsession-to-keep-lgbtq-books-in-school-libraries/

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