During the past month, Loudoun School Board meetings have started with parents lining up to read graphic sex scenes found in the pages of books that were added to classroom shelves this year.
Between steamy lines describing the unbuttoning of clothes, erections and breasts, the speakers point out that the scenes sometimes involve incest or statutory rape—and question whether such material has a place in the classroom where they can be accessed without parental permission.
The books are part of the school division’s diversity initiative and are intended to “bring more equity, inclusion, and diversity into classroom libraries.”
“The books provided in the classroom libraries are meant to give access to literature that reflect and honor the student population that exists in Loudoun. They are not required reading material nor are they included in instruction without clear ties to the lesson, as with all use of literature,” according a statement released by the school administration last week.
According to a tabulation provided by the administration, the diversity collection totals 3,400 books, 600 in elementary school classrooms, 1,200 in grades 6 through 8, and 1,600 in high schools. Of those, the vast majority of the books—98 percent at the elementary level and 92 percent in high school—were selected to help students explore differences of race, culture, language and religion. The other two categories of books are intended to address disabilities/abilities and LGBTQ subjects. The larger of those two collections is focused on LGBTQ matters, with five books in the elementary collection, 44 in middle schools, and 82 in high schools.
Speakers raising concerns about some of the new material say the books undermine values they teach at home, introduce topics of gender and sex to too-young audiences and even conflict with material presented in Family Life Education classes.
During last week’s board meeting, Michelle Friel read a scene from “The Season of You & Me,” involving intercourse between a teenage girl and her wheelchair-bound half-brother that is available to ninth graders who, in the formal curriculum at that age, she said, are taught abstinence and are encouraged to postpone sexual activity.
Emery Miller, grandfather of 12, said when he questioned some of the material included in the classroom library, he was told that “a parent should not censor a book based upon his or her household’s beliefs.”
“I took that to mean that my values aren’t valued,” said Miller, who requested that books emphasizing strong heterosexual marriage, abstinence, gender acceptance and sexual purity also be offered.
Melissa Garcia, who moved to Loudoun from Miami two years ago, said those selecting the books appeared to be sneaking in material to promote a cultural agenda. She said it shouldn’t be school workers who introduce her children to these topics. “I am the mother,” she said.
Laura Gray, a reading specialist at Park View High School, said she sees value in the material.
“I have seen first-hand the power of providing diverse independent reading books to readers. They are the hardest titles to keep on the shelves,” she told the School Board last week, adding that they help students become culturally, as well as academically, literate.
Gray relayed the story of a substitute teacher who refused to properly address a transgender student, referring to him only as “it” during the class.
“We need to do better by our students. Not just our LGBTQ students, but all students whose identities are often left out of the classroom.”
During the meetings, School Board members have not responded directly to the criticism. Parents with concerns are asked to file formal requests for specific titles to be reviewed.
“A few parents have requested that some of the new titles be reviewed. LCPS’ process for reviewing instructional materials requires a parent or guardian to submit a request to the principal of their child’s school,” according to school division’s most recent statement on the issue.
A detailed accounting of the challenged books has not been made available.
The staff also is addressing concerns that some books in the library may not be age-appropriate. Some are undergoing a “leveling” process. “For example, ‘Hurricane Child’ by Kheryn Callender, which is recommended for readers in the 3rd through 7th grades, was recently releveled from elementary school to middle school following a committee review,” according to the statement.
So far, no books have been removed from the collection. Four books have been releveled.