Some parents and community activists want criminal charges laid against North Carolina’s largest school system for distributing books with graphic language and pictures about sex to students.
Nine criminal complaints were filed Tuesday with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office accusing the school system of distributing obscene and pornographic material. Some of the targeted books include “Gender Queer”, “Not All Boys Are Blue”, “George” and “Lawn Boy”. These books have already been criticized in North Carolina and nationally for their sexual content.
The plaintiffs claim that the language and pictures in various books depict oral sex and other sexual acts that go beyond what should be acceptable in Wake County school libraries.
“Someone is trying to normalize children for sexual experiences,” said Julie Page, one of Wake’s parents who filed a complaint, in an interview. “There is no educational value in these books, not even in a fictitious way.”
In addition to the police complaint, Page filed a grievance with the Wake County school system.
Any decision on whether or not to lay criminal charges will rest with Wake County Prosecutor Lorrin Freeman.
“We have opened an investigation into these complaints and are awaiting further evidence before we can take the next step,” Eric Curry, spokesperson for the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, said in an interview.
Lisa Luten, a spokesperson for the Wake County school, said the district refused to comment on criminal complaints until it got more information. She said the district was following its policies to deal with the grievance.
Books in school libraries get more attention
Parents have shown up at school board meetings across the country, including in Wake County, to oppose books they believe are inappropriate.
“We are seeing what appears to be a loosely organized effort across social media seeking to control what is available in school libraries and school programs and to remove books, especially those reflecting LGBTQA themes and the lives of LGBTQA people. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association, said in an interview.
For example, the Proud Boys, a far-right group, joined forces to have “Gender Queer” removed from a school district in suburban Chicago. The book is an autobiography of how Maia Kobabe dealt with being non-binary while growing up.
The Moms for Liberty group, initially founded to fight against school mask mandates, is now also targeting what it calls “pornographic” books in school libraries. Page is the president of the Wake County chapter of Moms for Liberty, but says the local effort isn’t limited to her group.
Page and Wendy Runyon, a parent from Raleigh who also filed a criminal complaint, say they’re not just targeting LGBTQ books. They say they also complain about books that come in contact with heterosexual graphic material.
“It’s heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual,” Page said. “It’s adult on child. It is from incest to rape, regardless of the type of sexual material. We are not targeting any specific type of group or person.
Nationwide criminal investigations of books
A new wrinkle in the debate over explicit books in school and public libraries is the effort to find criminal charges.
Last month, Republican South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate whether any state laws have been broken because of “obscene material and pornography ”in public schools across the state, The State newspaper reported.
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered a similar criminal investigation into documents in public schools across the state.
A Florida school board member filed a criminal complaint in November accusing the district of breaking obscenity laws for having the book “Not All Boys Are Blue” in school libraries, the Orlando Sentinel reported. . The book has sexual content and features author George M. Johnson’s thoughts on growing up black and gay.
A Wyoming couple have filed criminal complaints against librarians accusing them of providing young people with books on sex education and LGBTQ topics that violate obscenity laws. But a prosecutor decided in October not to press charges, the Associated Press reported.
“These works do not in any way meet the legal test of juvenile obscenity,” said Caldwell-Stone of the Library Association. “It’s an individual decision that should be up to each parent and not to a group of parents trying to demand that a government institution adhere to their particular gender identity themes.”
Draw attention to books in Wake
Runyon, Wake’s parent, said she was motivated to investigate after hearing GOP Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson complain about sexually explicit books in public schools across the state.
Runyon, the mother of high school and elementary school students, said she and other parents were shocked to find 144 different headlines they said contained sexually graphic language and images in 188 Wake schools. She said students can get hard copies in their school library or access digital copies of the books.
“I’m not a prudish man,” Runyon said in an interview. “But nothing in the books is educational at all. It’s just garbage.
Runyon said she didn’t expect charges to be laid. But she said she hoped the complaints would alert parents to the type of material their children are exposed to at school.
“If it wakes up a parent and makes them check the book their child brought home, it will be worth it,” she said.
But Caldwell-Stone said that reviews that focus on a few pages or images don’t consider the works as a whole. She said that these books, such as “Not All Boys Are Blue” and “Gender Queer,” talk about serious issues in an honest way.
“What do we teach young people about our personal freedoms, our constitutional democracy when we use censorship to control thought? Caldwell-Stone said.
This story was originally published 2 December 2021 14:57.