Your child’s school books could be decided in the next election
The next batch of elected board members in districts like CMS, Cabarrus and Union County will likely face questions about textbook policies.
CHARLOTTE, NC — Carolinas school board elections are already underway for several school districts as North Carolina begins early voting. One question voters want to know from council members is how they view bans and restrictions on the books.
At CMS a board policy mandates a committee of people who decide which books should and should not be in individual schools. Current policy tells them to avoid judging books by single passages.
“Evaluate the merits of the item against its alleged weaknesses (considering the whole item instead of isolated passages),” the council’s policy says.
This has been a common theme at council meetings: reading singular passages considered risky and inappropriate.
At a recent Charlotte board meeting, a member of the Mecklenburg chapter of Moms for Freedom read a few lines from the book, “This book is gay.” She claimed the book was found by a student in a 7th grade class.
The book is described by its publisher as a young adult non-fiction bestseller on sexuality and gender.
School’s director, Collinswood Language Academytold parents in a written note that the book was part of the teacher’s personal library which is in a prohibited section of the classroom.
“During the teacher’s absence, the book was removed from the teacher’s personal space and placed in the classroom student library, resulting in unintended circulation of the book,” explains the note from the director.
“Any teacher who puts material like this on their bookshelf is either a bad teacher or a child-care pedophile,” Moms for Liberty member Christy Wade told school board members.
Internal emails, requested by the Mecklenburg County chapter of Moms for Liberty, at one point show the book was on a “book tasting mission” at Jay M. Robinson College.
The principal said this is an optional 2020 assignment that requires parent sign-off. The principal said he asked all Grade 7 teachers to “delete existing files”, if they still exist.
The Conservative parents’ advocacy group says that’s still not enough.
“I don’t want the books taken down; I just want informed consent so parents can opt in to a system that restricts access to certain levels of content,” said Brooke Weiss, Mecklenburg Moms for Liberty Chair.
Weiss said she spoke to school officials about a grading system similar to motion picture film rating systems. She also wants books challenged and successfully removed from a school building to be automatically removed throughout the district.
“Teachers will do repetitive work that has already been done, so my proposal was to do it at the district level,” Weiss said.
The same fight to restrict, or at least reconsider the books, is also taking place in Cabarrus County. Currently, a proposal is going through the district to reconsider who has the authority to challenge the books in the district.
RELATED: Cabarrus County Schools Debate Who Can Initiate Book Pulls
Experts say the relevance of the books is subjective and districts should be careful.
“When you receive petitions to remove material, have processes and procedures on the books that they can follow, and follow them in a clear, consistent, and fair manner,” said Jonathan Freidman, director of freedom of Expression and Education from PEN America.
Weiss said that despite public criticism, she has found common ground with people who think books with explicit scenes shouldn’t be accessible.
“There was a gentleman directly behind Christy who literally put his fingers in her ears,” Weiss said. “This man found it as offensive as, you know, Christy, a conservative white woman.”
Conversations about the place of books in schools don’t live in a vacuum and are part of a nationwide push by groups like Mom for Liberty, which largely identify as conservative groups.
On its main website, there is a toolkit for parents to find out what books are in a child’s school, how to opt out of readings, and a model of the book evaluation system proposed by Weiss.
“Ultimately the role of the library is to serve a diverse audience and that means catering to, and being able to serve, different interests within communities and different ideas of what is age appropriate,” said freidman.
The procedure for challenging or banning books in most districts is council policy. This means that any changes must be made by the board. School board elections open up the possibility of changing board members and altering previous school board procedures.
“My proposal is simply meant as the start of a reasonable conversation, a meaningful conversation to find a solution that works for everyone,” Weiss said.