"This Book is Gay" is coming off the shelves at Northwest Junior High and other Iowa City Community School District libraries following a Twitter blast aimed at the Coralville school that administrators believe was linked to a pair of bomb threats.
The school had to be evacuated on consecutive days last week while police searched it. No explosive devices were found.
The Libs of TikTok Twitter account, which has 2 million followers and is known for its anti-LGBTQ stance, published a Tweet on March 21 that denounced the school for having the book, which it said promotes “gay sex and encouraged the use of sex apps.” It generated hundreds of responses, many of them graphically homophobic.
Iowa City Community School District Superintendent Matt Degner, in an email to district families and staff Tuesday, said the March 23 and 24 bomb threats against Northwest appeared “to be part of larger nationwide efforts designed to cause disruption and panic as well as draw attention to the availability of the book This Book is Gay in school libraries.”
Emailed bomb threats after a similar Libs of TikTok tweet, also last week, forced the evacuation of the entire Hilton Central School District in suburban Rochester, New York. Another tweet targeted Sioux City schools, which responded by pulling the book from their shelves, the Sioux City Journal reported.
The emails Northwest Junior High received containing the threats “were nearly identical" to the Hilton Central emails, Degner’s message said. He said the book by Juno Dawson was being temporarily removed from the Iowa City district’s library system and would be subjected to “the book reconsideration process as outlined in board policy.”
Dawson's book was among the "10 most challenged books" of 2021 as identified by the American Library Association. Some Twitter user questioned the decision to remove it from Iowa City schools, concerned that it appeared to give in to the threats made against Northwest.
Degner told the Press-Citizen on Wednesday that while he understood that concern, he thought it would be an opportunity to “show people that we have effective policies and procedures that guide this work.”
“We have great educators,” he said. “We don't have things to hide. The stories that you hear around public school libraries, classrooms and us trying to indoctrinate students, that we feel strongly that we try to do anything but that and that we have really transparent mechanisms that we go about with this.”
What is the book reconsideration process that ‘This Book is Gay’ is undergoing?
“This Book is Gay” will be reviewed as part of a district policy entitled "Objection to Instructional Materials ― Reconsideration of Instructional Materials Regulation. It says “members of the school district community may raise an objection to instructional materials used in the school district’s education program.”
Degner acknowledged that it wasn’t a resident of the Iowa City Community School District who challenged the title, but rather that the district had made the decision because of the incidents at Northwest Junior High.
“We knew that was important for our organization to do and to look at this text and ultimately have a decision on it since it potentially has been part of the disruption at Northwest,” he said.
Degner said it will take about a two to three weeks to come to a decision on “This Book is Gay.”
Conducting the review will be a reconsideration committee made up of a licensed district employee, a teacher-librarian and a member of the administrative team, all appointed by Degner, three community members appointed by the School Board and two high school students selected by a principal.
What did the bomb threats say?
WHEC-TV, a television station and an NBC affiliate in Rochester, New York, published one of the emails containing the bomb threat targeting Hilton Central School District. That rambling threat, rife with misspellings, referenced “This Book is Gay” and said, "There is nothing more vile and disgusting than violating a child’s innonence and that is exactly what this school system has done."
It added, "You are disgusting degenerates that belong on cross," and vowed "we will end you and purify our land of you degenerates and make our country great."
In an interview last week, Coralville Police Chief Shane Kron declined to provide the exact wording of the threats to Northwest, but did say they made no mention of the book. "The threat doesn’t even say why they’re getting the threat,” he added.
“I think it’s consistent with other notes that have been from that group or tied to that group but it’s not an outright signature,” he said.
Degner, however, said that “we seem to think that there was some connection between some earlier social media activity in the week that heightened our concern when we actually had the bomb threat come through on Thursday.”
He told the Press-Citizen that the district worked with Coralville police to "to confirm that those connections weren't necessarily legitimate or that there's no further cause for concern."
"I think that they're still in the process of investigating that out fully," he said. "But for us, it created enough concern at the time and enough disruption that we felt to take the necessary steps that we did.”
Previously, in May, the Ankeny school district's social media accounts, including the superintendent's, were flooded with thousands of negative messages after Libs of TikTok targeted Ankeny High School's Gender Sexuality Alliance for hosting an after-school drag performance that the district called unauthorized.
What is Libs of TikTok?
Libs of TikTok was founded by a former Brooklyn, New York, real estate agent the Washington Post identified as Chaya Raichik, who has since become a frequent guest on conservative media.
Last September, the Post reported, the account was blamed for harassment of children's hospitals the provided gender-affirming care.
Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle and arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach her at PBarraza@press-citizen.com or 319-519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: 'This Book is Gay' removed from Iowa City schools' shelves after threats