Teachers allege censorship of LGBTQ-themed books
Two separate incidents this fall worried some teachers in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District over book censorship.
Teachers at Kaliforsky Beach Elementary School were told to temporarily stop teaching a book after a school administrator found it inappropriate for age. The district also withheld books on sexuality from the Seward High School library that it considered “controversial.”
The president of the teachers’ association, Nathan Erfurth, said the two cases violate the due process for reviewing teaching materials. He said the teachers’ association had filed a complaint about the situation at the library and was in conversation with the district about the K-Beach incident.
âUltimately what we’re looking for is accountability and making sure our school district follows its own policies,â he said.
District Superintendent Clayton Holland said the school district is aware of the complaints and is reviewing them.
“We are not seeking to limit anyone’s instructions or, in particular, a child’s ability to pick up a book he chooses to pick up and read,” he said.
Last month, two fourth and fifth grade teachers at K-Beach Elementary School were criticized for reading to their students “Flight of the Puffin,” an Anne Braden novel about inclusiveness that features uninvited characters. gender-compliant.
Erfurth said teachers read the book to create an inclusive environment for gender non-conforming students in the classroom, and skipped parts of the book that they considered irrelevant or age-inappropriate. In their weekly updates to parents, teachers posted notes on the sections they read aloud.
After a parent complained to the district office, the school principal emailed parents saying she regretted that the book was read aloud in class because she reviewed it. and decided that it was not suitable for the age or the school year.
âWhile the overall theme of the book is acceptance, there are some topics that are best left for families to discuss,â the email said. “The role of our school is to focus on academics, and this book is not KPBSD approved educational material for teaching.”
According to the district policy review manual, books and other educational materials cannot be taken out of circulation until a formal complaint process is completed. Individual students may be exempted from reading the disputed material. But the policy says that “the use of the materials by a class, school or district, however, will not be restricted until the board makes a final decision.”
After the district superintendent receives a complaint about material taught in the classroom, a committee of administrators, teachers, and community members meets to review it. The decision made by this committee is then sent to the school board for review and approval.
The book that teachers read with their classes is not officially included in the classroom curriculum. Therefore, Holland said, it is not going through the same review process.
“We are not in censorship of any kind and believe in books that promote kindness and tolerance,” he said. âWhen it comes to the one you’re talking about, that really involves making sure that we know it’s age-appropriate. And if there are any questions about that, make sure the parents are also sensitized.
And he said the school is taking an immediate hiatus from the book, not banning it altogether, as they consider whether it is appropriate for the age.
Erfurth said the discretion over which books to read in the classroom is usually left to teachers. He said the book should have gone through the traditional review process.
Separately, the district recalled books in August sent to the Seward High School library during a routine restocking, including titles on LGBTQ themes.
In an email dated August 20, Deputy Superintendent Kari Dendurent told the school secretary that she had filed a request to recall several titles from the school library. The subject line of the email reads: “Controversial books sent to Seward High School to be verified as suitable for teenagers.”
Headlines on the list include âThe Gay Liberation Movement,â âEverything You Need to Know About Bisexualityâ and âI’m a Feminist,â as well as âWe Are Not Equal Yet – Understanding Our Racial Divideâ and âBeing jazz – My life as a transgender teenager.
In the email, Dendurent asked the school secretary to collect the books on the list if they had already been borrowed by the students.
The curriculum review policy also covers non-required materials, such as library books. Decisions about non-required materials are made by the Course Materials Review Committee and the Superintendent.
Holland said those books were returned to the library earlier this month.
“I am trying to find out why the delay in returning the books,” he said.
On October 10, Soldotna High School Librarian Tamra Wear emailed the school board about the books, claiming that students have a right under federal and board policies to equal access to materials. and resources that reflect their own lives.
Erfurth said he was particularly concerned that the recalled books focused on LGBTQ characters and themes, as several cases of bullying of transgender and gay students were reported in schools on the Kenai Peninsula.
âThe problem right now, what worries me, is that there is a demographic here that is starting to see some weird decisions that the district is making,â he said. âAnd we want to make sure we don’t let that continue.
The Kenai Peninsula Education Association filed a complaint against Dendurent following the incident. These complaints are handled by the supervisor of the person named in the complaint.
Holland said he was unable to speak to the ongoing complaints against the staff.
Erfurth said that even in the midst of these two instances, the district has also done a lot of good in creating an inclusive space for students.
âThe fact that what has happened in the past few weeks is such a shock to a lot of people is actually a good sign,â he said. âBecause that means that sort of thing isn’t the norm in our school district. It’s an aberration. Which makes it all the more important that we address it.
He said the district recently created a resolution that allows symbols of inclusion inside classrooms, such as pride flags, in response to an increase in student vandalism. He said the district is also convening a civil rights committee, which is meeting for the first time this evening.