A school district in Erie County appears to have removed the controversial book “Gender Queer” from its high school libraries, but the real motive behind the action remains somewhat unclear.
The book, which has been the source of debate in school districts across the country, tells the story of a person who does not follow binary gender norms. However, the book also contains several graphic images of graphic sex acts. (Two images from the book can be viewed here and here.)
According to the American Library Association, it is currently the “most challenged” book in the country.
“I did a review of the book and determined that it was not suitable for our high school library. This was not because of the content of the book, but because of some of the graphic images,” wrote Fairveiw Superintendent Dr. Erik Kincade in an electronic message obtained by Broad + Liberty.
The message was sent to someone who lived in the district and who had queried Kincade about the book.
Requests for comment to the district, including questions asking for confirmation or denial of the authenticity of the message, were not returned. A search of the library’s online catalog does not show the book as being available either electronically or physically.
Despite the message sent by Kincade, the district does not appear to have otherwise commented publicly on the book’s removal.
Other districts in the commonwealth have kept the book.
For example, the West Chester Area School District voted in March to retain the book after it was first brought to the school board’s attention in late October.
A review committee found that, “There are explicit images but in context to the memoir, they are not pornographic,” and made a further comparison that many art books contain nude images.
At the March school board meeting in which WCASD decided to retain the book, board member Stacey Whomsley asked District Superintendent Dr. Robert Sokolowski if the district had an established policy for what books should be included on the library’s shelves, and which should not, usually called a “collection development policy.”
“I believe that we have received some recommendations from our librarians as to how we can — in terms of obtain our collection and consider our collection in our libraries — do that better, and using this as an opportunity as a means by which we could improve those procedures,” Sokolowski said.
Broad + Liberty is currently in the process of obtaining collection development policies from all of the school districts in the Delaware Valley for comparison purposes.
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In Central Bucks, the controversy is the collection development policy itself.
The school board there last month passed a new policy which prohibits “visual or visually implied depictions of sexual acts or simulations of such acts” or “explicit written descriptions of sexual acts.”
Critics like the American Civil Liberties Union said the language of the policy was open to broad interpretation, which, they argued, could eventually lead to other books being removed from school libraries.
In some cases, certain districts have put mechanisms in place where parents can request that certain books and materials be restricted to their children.
For example, when “Gender Queer” was disallowed in the libraries of an Illinois school district recently, a local news report noted that, “parents can refer to the student handbook on how to restrict their kids from certain materials.”
When directly asked by Broad + Liberty, WCASD did not comment on whether it had any such mechanism.
When the controversy first arose in WCASD, then-board member Chris McCune denied that “Gender Queer” was anywhere in the district’s possession.
“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,” McCune said in October.
In an email shared with Broad + Liberty, McCune later told a constituent that the materials he had been shown at the board meeting discussed “Gender Queer” as it related to a school district in Virginia, and so he misspoke because of that.
McCune later lost his bid for re-election a few days later.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports