Board of Ed candidate's book-removal request spurs discussion of FCPS policy
Oct. 15—A local school board candidate is calling for the removal of dozens of books from Frederick County Public Schools' libraries, reigniting a discussion about how the district chooses materials.
Cindy Rose, a candidate on the Education Not Indoctrination slate, shared a list of 35 books before beginning her public comment at the Frederick County Board of Education's meeting Wednesday.
The list included books old and new — from Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel "Slaughterhouse-Five" to the bestselling "A Court of Thorns and Roses" by Sarah J. Maas, which has been popular among young readers since it was published in 2015.
Rose read excerpts from two books, warning the board "this is going to be probably the most uncomfortable public comment I've ever made, and I've made a lot of them."
She then read aloud two scenes describing rape — one from "Push" by Sapphire, the story of a teenage girl impregnated by her father, and one from "Sold" by Patricia McCormick, the tale of a Nepalese girl sold into sexual slavery in India.
Rose called on the board to immediately remove all books on the list from school libraries. She told board members she would hold them "personally responsible for allowing child pornography to be made available to our children using our tax dollars."
Three candidates on the Education Not Indoctrination slate are running together in the Nov. 8 general election.
In an interview Friday, Rose said she compiled the list using a database from ratedbooks.org, which launched a campaign to ban what it deemed to be pornographic books from Utah schools, according to its site.
"Everybody thinks it's happening elsewhere," Rose said Friday. "Then when they find out it's happening in their own backyards ... their jaws hit the floor."
Some attendees at Wednesday's board meeting gave Rose a standing ovation after she spoke.
Out of 35 books on Rose's list, 18 have been checked out 10 times or fewer, according to FCPS library circulation data. The numbers represent all times anyone checked out or renewed a book since 2008, or whenever it was made available.
"Sold" was borrowed the most, at 343 check-outs, according to the data.
An FCPS statement emailed by spokesman Brandon Oland says district media specialists are primarily responsible for identifying which books to put on school library shelves.
"We add thousands of titles to our libraries annually and rely on representative bibliographic sources and review journals prior to purchase," the statement said.
"FCPS Central Office staff reviewed the titles submitted during public comment and determined they were selected and purchased using the Board-approved selection process," it continued. "This means that all book titles were noted on our list of bibliographic sources as having favorable reviews, with the exception of two titles the team is still reviewing."
Oland said he didn't know which two titles on Rose's list were being referenced.
Still, the FCPS statement said, the district plans to give a presentation on book selection guidelines to the school board before the end of this calendar year. There, employees and officials could "discuss this topic more in depth, including the legal context surrounding library book selection and any potential improvements to the process."
The school board's Curriculum and Instruction Committee is set to discuss that in December, Board Vice President Sue Johnson said in an interview.
That meeting was scheduled earlier this year, after the board received complaints about "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe.
A single copy of that book was shipped to the Linganore High School library, but it had not yet been put out on the shelves for students to access.
Johnson read "Gender Queer" when she heard some parents' concerns. She said she found it "enlightening and thought-provoking."
"But that was my adult brain, and I'm not exactly sure how a high-schooler brain would process the same content," she said.
The district decided to hold back on placing the book into circulation until the board could discuss the idea and the media selection process further, Johnson said.
There's a different process for removing books already in circulation. For that, parents fill out a specific form and follow a formal process.
Johnson said she was open to reviewing the district's policies on library books. She stressed the importance of involving students in that process.
"The public has every right to question the board and board policies on how we obtain and use media materials," she said.
She also questioned the timing of Rose's comments. She said she wanted to avoid "knee-jerk reactions," especially for texts that have been on shelves for many years.
"If you're coming to me three weeks before an election, complaining about a book that's been on the shelf since 2008, I'm not gonna say, 'Let's pull it off the shelf right now,'" Johnson said.
Jason Johnson, another board member, said in an interview that he was surprised by the content of the excerpts Rose selected Wednesday.
Like Sue Johnson, he said the district and the board should review its policies. But he also said he'd like to see "lewd content" removed from school library shelves. He floated the idea of certain titles only being available to students with their parents' permission.
"I'm very big on parental consent," he said. "I'm very big on appropriate content for appropriate levels."
Dean Rose — a member of the Students First Slate, running against the ENI Slate — echoed Sue Johnson's position, saying he was open to discussing policy but cautious about removing certain titles.
"I am not in support of arbitrarily just pulling books," he said.
Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek