Parents decry “offensive’ books at School Board meeting

By Heather Michon

Several Fluvanna County residents stepped up to the podium during the School Board meeting on Wednesday night (Oct. 9) to call out – and occasionally read explicit passages from – books they think do not belong in the Fluvanna County High School library.

Brittany Gray, who is currently running to unseat incumbent Palmyra representative James Kelley, said she and others had found 19 books in FCHS library that contained “offensive” content. 

“We don’t need these books in our schools. We need to be focused on learning. We need to be focused on education. You cannot tell me these books in any way, shape, or form, are helping our children.” Describing herself as a domestic violence survivor, she said, “I was reading those books and I’m shaking because they were so triggering.” 

“You guys should be ashamed of yourself,” said Fork Union resident Kat Campbell. “It’s not about micromanaging, but if your librarian cannot keep content like this out of our children’s school, then there is a significant problem in the staff of the library.” 

From excerpts read during the public comment period, two of the titles appear to be “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a memoir by journalist George M. Johnson about growing up Black and queer, and the free-verse novel “Tilt” by Ellen Hopkins. There was also a comment that likely referred to the 1996 novel “Push” by Sapphire. 

Superintendent Peter Gretz reported on Monday that “All Boys Aren’t Blue” was added to the FCHS collection in 2021 has never been checked out; “Tilt” has been marked as “lost” and hasn’t circulated since 2016; “Push” was removed from circulation in 2022.

The American Library Association reports that Virginia has seen a record number of attempts to remove or ban titles in both public and school libraries in 2023. According to its figures, a total of 356 individual titles had been challenged between Jan. 1 and Aug.  31 – more than double the number challenged in all of 2022. This process has been spurred in part by nationwide groups like Moms for Liberty, which curate lengthy lists of books they feel are inappropriate for children. Many of these titles focus on topics like race, gender identity, and sexuality.

It was not entirely clear what action the speakers wanted the School Board to take in the matter. Fluvanna County Public Schools already has a review process where parents or others can challenge material, and decisions made through this review process can be appealed to the superintendent or the School Board. 

Gary Davis, who is running against Danny Reed for the open Fork Union seat, said on his campaign Facebook page that he believed this was “a coordinated political attack led by candidates” during the last School Board meeting before the election on Nov. 7.

“This isn’t surprising given its October of an election year,” said Kelley on his campaign page, “but it’s disappointing to see our school board meeting used for political gain.”

“I’ve met five of the six librarians in our schools, and I can honestly say they want what’s best for our students, and they have NO agenda!” Davis wrote. “Talk to them about the books rather than attacking them publicly.” 

Gray wrote over the weekend that “despite what you may have heard through the community, I did not demand for books to be banned.” 

But she maintained that some material, like the passages read aloud at the meeting, shouldn’t be available to minors. “Sadly, we do not all agree on this. Sadly, there are many authors who specifically target and attempt to groom minors.”

The Virginia Association of School Librarians also opposes the censorship or removal of library books, although they agree that schools can adopt policies and procedures to review challenged materials. “However, no person or group has the right to make choices for other children and every child should have access to books they may want to read,” they argue in their position statement on censorship in Virginia schools.

This is the list of books in the FCHS catalog currently being reviewed by the school as possibly containing inappropriate material. Superintendent Peter Gretz said in an email that these books will be evaluated by a committee, and that “during the review process, these books will be pulled from circulation.”  

All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson

All the Things We Do in the Dark by Saundra Mitchell

America the Novel by ER Frank

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Damsel by Elana K Arnold

Dime by ER Frank

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Me Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

Out of Darkness by Ashely Hope Perez

PUSH by Sapphire (REMOVED IN 2022)

Shine by Lauren Myracle

Sold by Patricia McCormick

Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (NEVER IN CIRCULATION)

Tilt by Ellen Hopkins (MARKED AS LOST)

Tricks by Ellen Hopkins

TTFN by Lauren Miracle

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

What Girls are Made of by Elena K Arnold

The You I’ve Never Known by Ellen Hopkins

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