The West Chester Area School District pulled a book from its high school libraries after a parent confronted the school board at a Monday meeting about sexual imagery the book contained.
A parent identified as Chris Manos passed out copies of images from the book to WCASD members during the public comment portion of the board meeting.
“The three illustrations that you see there are from a book called ‘Gender Queer,’ and this book is being distributed in kindergarten through 12th grade learning environments,” Manos said. “And I would like by a show of hands, each school member, school, board member to, uh, indicate whether by raising your hand, yes, this looks like it’s pornographic,” Manos said.
The school board attorney advised the members not to comment, and the board went into a brief recess.
When the meeting reconvened, School Board Director Chris McCune said: “that book is not in our district. That book is not in a district in our county. That book is not in a district in our state. Um, so therefore it’s not really material to our board meetings.”
Contrary to McCune’s assertions, however, an email was circulated on Twitter Tuesday afternoon showing District Superintendent Dr. Robert Sokolowski telling a parent that the book had been removed, at least temporarily.
“I want to let you know that I have removed the book from our high school libraries while it undergoes our administrative review process,” Sokolowski wrote.
“With tens of thousands of books in each of our high school libraries, I was not aware this book was part of our collections,” he continued. “Similarly, it would be highly unusual for our Board members to be familiar with all of the books in our school libraries.”
“We do take very seriously our duty to provide age-appropriate reading materials in our school libraries, and we will diligently review this book. This is an administrative responsibility and I can assure you that we will follow through in accordance with the proper procedures,” Sokolowski concluded.
In an email shared exclusively with Broad + Liberty, McCune told a parent in the district one day after the board meeting that he discovered the book was indeed available through the schools, and that he realized he was in error. But he had a different explanation for his comments about the book not being in the district.
“Mr. Manos handed the board content and an article from Loudon County. My statement was directed at that. This is the first time this issue has been brought to the attention of the board,” McCune wrote.
“To your point, I have confirmed that the book in question was part of the 2020 recommended leading list for grades 10th through 12th grade on our Equity page. The board will be reviewing this list with the administration.
“On a personal note as a father of five, I have concerns with any graphic sexual content,” he concluded.
Emails to the school district requesting comment were not returned.
Manos, whose two children have been in the district for two years, told Broad + Liberty “the type of sexually explicit content is irrelevant.”
“Presenting sexually explicit content to minors is a form of child abuse, and it’s a felony,” he said. “And in the state of Pennsylvania, if you suspect child abuse and do not report it, you can be considered an accessory to criminal activity and I’m mandated to report it. And I reported it to the school board.”
Besides the book being available in the district’s high school libraries, it had also been recommended on some of the district’s web pages devoted to its equity goals.
“I support the Westchester Area School District’s stated intent with the equity mission personally,” Manos said. “I believe in meritocracy, equality, and equal rights for all, and that as Americans, we all enjoy the natural right to freedom of expression. I also believe that every one of us has the natural right, and freedom to be whatever each individual wants to be.”
By pulling the book for an administrative review, WCASD is following in the footsteps of the other school districts around the country who have faced similar criticism over the same book.
The National Coalition Against Censorship is condemning the pulling of the book by the Fairfax County, Virginia, school district.
“We are particularly concerned that, under current regulations, a challenge can take 120working days to be adjudicated if the person who files the challenge takes advantage of all appeals permitted by the District’s regulations. Thus, under current district regulations, a parent who objects to the political views of a book can prevent its use for most of the school year,” the NCAC wrote in its letter.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com.