The Spotsylvania County School Board directed staff to remove books with “sexually explicit” material from libraries after a parent raised concerns about books available through a school’s digital library app at Monday’s meeting.
The discussion was prompted by concerns raised by Christina Burris, the mother of a Riverbend High School student, who said she was alarmed that LGBTQIA fiction was immediately available through the library app. She was more upset when she came across Adam Rapp's “33 Snowfish," which is about homeless teens trying to escape from pasts that include sexual abuse, prostitution and drug addiction.
Monday night marked the first time Christina and Robert Burris spoke before the school board. The couple said they don’t believe books with sexually explicit content, like pedophilia and prostitution, belong in a high school library.
“To have something like this that could really traumatize a kid if they just check out a book because it looks cool and then they open it up and start reading it, some of the things they'll come across is just shocking,” Robert Burris said.
The Spotsylvania County School Board also directed staff to report on the number of books that have been removed at a special meeting called for next week, The Free Lance-Star reported. The board voted 6–0 to order the removal, with one member not in attendance.
Two school board members, Rabih Abuismail and Kirk Twigg, said they'd like to see the removed books burned.
“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuismail said. "I guess we live in a world now that our public schools would rather have kids read about gay pornography than Christ."
Twigg said he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”
The board also requested a report next week on how books are selected for digital and hard copy library collections and indicated that it will consider a division-wide library audit. The criteria for pulling books from circulation this week is “sexually explicit,” but the board plans to refine how material is determined to be “objectionable” for a further review of library holdings.
Riverbend High School Principal Troy Wright and school librarians have been looking into the parents’ concerns since they were raised with the school last week, Teaching and Learning Director Darnela Sims said, asking for more time to review existing vetting processes.
“It is incumbent on us to make sure that whatever the policy says we need to do, we’re doing, and if something needs to be strengthened, it’s on us to do it,” Sims said.
Superintendent Dr. S. Scott Baker said he has faith in the librarians.
Books with sexually explicit content have come under fire across the country. In Loudoun and Fairfax counties, parents recently read passages from some books aloud and berated board members.
The American Library Association, however, said it’s important to offer a wide variety of books in school libraries.
"No one parent should dictate what every child reads, what every family has access to, because we have such varied and diverse values," Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, said.
What's offensive to one person, might not be to another, board member Baron Braswell noted, echoing the request for time.
“We have to be clear on what is offensive and should not be in our schools and what should be,” he said. “You can’t do an audit of books without developing screening criteria and you have to have facts in order to do that.”