HUDSON — After some parents last fall demanded three books be pulled from the Hudson High School library, one work has been removed, a second item is being returned to the shelf and a third title is out of circulation while it undergoes further review.
At Monday's Hudson Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Phil Herman said "A Girl on the Shore" by Inio Asano will be removed from the high school library, "Lawn Boy" by Jonathan Evison will be returned to circulation and "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe will remain off the shelf while it's being reviewed by a committee.
In late September, Herman said some parents complained that these books contained "offensive or objectionable content for high school students." The complaints are similar to concerns raised by conservative groups and political candidates who say LGBTQ-themed material written for young people should not be made available at schools.
The district removed the books from the high school library while officials reviewed the titles and the selection process that was used. No other complaints have been issued regarding books since the ones made in September.
Two of the books received awards, but have been criticized by parents in other states
"Gender Queer" and "Lawn Boy" were honored by the American Library Association with Alex Awards, given to 10 books annually with "special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18."
But both also have been criticized in other states by parents demanding the books be pulled from school library shelves.
In a statement to The Washington Post responding to the Fairfax County, Virginia, school district's decision to pull "Gender Queer" from its high school libraries, Oni Press Publisher James Lucas Jones said the book is an important resource for students who identify as genderqueer or nonbinary and that “limiting its availability is short-sighted and reactionary.”
"Lawn Boy" author Evison told The Washington Post that he has received death threats since his book drew national headlines last year, when a Texas mother criticized it at a school board meeting. Evison defended his book, which he said addresses capitalism, wealth disparity and racial assumptions.
Principal says two of the books have educational value, one does not
Per Hudson Board of Education policy, a person who objects to school material can request that the use of the material be reconsidered. That's what happened with these three books. The first step was for high school Principal Brian Wilch to conduct a preliminary review of the books.
"A Girl on the Shore" will be removed from the high school library after Wilch determined the book "was pervasively vulgar and lacks educational suitability," Herman said at Monday's board meeting.
Wilch decided "Gender Queer" and "Lawn Boy" should remain in circulation in the high school library. Both books, Herman shared, were recommended to media specialists on a list of works that are "specifically targeted toward the support of marginalized students."
"Lawn Boy" focuses on Mike Munoz, a character who is Mexican, economically impoverished and gay, and Herman noted Wilch reported, "[Munoz's] story of grit and perseverance sheds a positive light for these often marginalized groups."
In the book, Munoz lives in a single-parent household with a brother who has a disability.
"Mr. Wilch found the book has literary value to students in our high school who may face similar challenges and that although there are sexually explicit accounts in the book, they do not detract from the overall educational value to students similarly situated," Herman said.
Herman noted Wilch believed "Gender Queer" also offered educational value.
"Though 'Gender Queer' does contain sexually explicit imagery, the principal determined the book contains educational value and that it provides students who may be struggling with their own gender identity with unique perspective and support," Herman said. "... It provides all students with valuable insight and unique perspective into issues faced by members of the LGBTQ community."
Professor: Book challenges surging at schools
What's happening in Hudson is part of a national phenomenon, according to Dr. Belinda Boon, an associate professor with the Kent State University School of Information.
"Since last summer, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of individuals and groups demanding that books be removed from school libraries," Boon said.
While challenges of books in school libraries have occurred for a long time, Boon said the number of complaints happening now is "unprecedented."
She added she felt that this rising trend is being driven by a conservative backlash against movements such as Black Lives Matter and gay pride, with most of the complaints focused on depictions of race or sexuality.
"School and public libraries have made concerted efforts over the last few years to include quality materials in their collections that represent the voices and experiences of people of color and the LGBT community," Boon said. "These materials have also become targets for censorship."
There is also a more tense atmosphere surrounding some of these challenges.
"What’s most concerning about the current trend is that in some cases, school board members are being intimidated and even threatened by these groups," Boon said. "And some elected and non-elected officials are being induced to disregard constitutional principles and promote government censorship of library collections."
Government is becoming more involved, too, with some states considering legislation to restrict the types of materials that school libraries can carry, Boon said.
Next steps in process
Under Hudson school board policy, if the citizen making the initial reconsideration request was not satisfied with the principal's finding, they could request that a committee review the book. Such a request was made for "Gender Queer," but not "Lawn Boy," Herman said.
While "Lawn Boy" is being returned to the library shelf, "Gender Queer" will stay out of circulation while the committee conducts its review, Herman said.
He added he will soon appoint a committee of two teachers, a librarian, three parents and the assistant superintendent to further review "Gender Queer." The librarian who was involved in the initial selection of the book would not be on the committee, Herman said.
"I think it's important to try to have a broad cross-section of opinions represented," he said.
The committee must make a written recommendation to the superintendent within 45 days of the citizen's request for committee review. The committee can either recommend keeping the book in the library or removing it. The superintendent would then make the final decision, but if the person who requested reconsideration is not satisfied with the outcome, they can submit a written request to discuss the issue with the Board of Education.
Examining how books were added
Herman said Lisa Hunt, the district's director of human resources, examined how the books were reviewed and approved for circulation in the library and whether any staff member violated board policy when adding the books to the library collection.
Hunt's investigation included a review of relevant Board of Education policies and administrative guidelines, and interviews with staff members involved in the selection of the materials.
The review, Herman said, determined the board policy for materials was followed for "Gender Queer" and "Lawn Boy" but not for "A Girl on the Shore."
Unlike "Gender Queer and "Lawn Boy," Herman said "A Girl on the Shore" was not recommended by the objective sources relied on by the district. In addition, Herman noted, "the book was flagged as unsuitable content and there is a substantial amount of sexual content in the graphic novel."
"As a result, the media specialist responsible will be referred for follow-up," Herman said. He added that the follow-up process could include disciplinary action being taken against the employee.
The report determined that the administrative guidelines for library book selection should be clarified, Herman said.
"The district needs to better explain how consultation with administration, faculty, (and) students should happen prior to final library book selection by our media specialists," he said.
The investigation offered recommendations for improving the review and selection process, and Herman noted he expects proposed changes to policies to come before the board within the next two months.
"The district remains committed to libraries being forums for information and ideas and providing books that are educationally suitable for the subject area and for the age, emotional development and ability level, learning styles, and social development of our students for whom the materials are selected," Herman said.
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Hudson library book probe leads to varied outcomes for trio of works