FALLS CHURCH. Va. -- A northern Virginia school system said it is removing two books from school libraries, including an illustrated memoir that contains explicit illustrations of sexual encounters involving children, after a parent expressed concern about them at a school board meeting.
Stacy Langton, a parent in the Fairfax County school system, questioned the school board at a public meeting Thursday about the books' availability in high school libraries. As she quoted from explicit passages in the book, a school board member interrupted her and chastised her for using explicit language.
Another school board member defended the books by saying they are available only in high school libraries, not in grade schools.
On Friday, the school system initially said it was conducting a review. Later in the day, it said it was pulling “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison from circulation pending a more detailed review. Two committees made up of staff, students and parents will assess both books and make recommendations to the assistant superintendent of instructional services “who will make a final decision as to whether FCPS continues to provide access to these books in our high school libraries,” the school system said.
“Gender Queer" publisher Oni Press issued a statement Friday saying that limiting the book's availability is “short-sighted and reactionary.”
“Oni Press supports Maia Kobabe for the truth and strength in sharing eir story, and hope to be a home for others who want to share their own stories with the world. The fact is, GENDER QUEER is an important, timely piece of work that serves as an invaluable resource for not only those that identity as nonbinary or genderqueer, but for people looking to understand what that means.”
Online inventory systems showed both books were widely available throughout high school libraries in the Fairfax County system. One school, Robinson Secondary, serves grades 7-12.
Indeed, one or both books are available in school systems throughout the region, including Loudoun County, Arlington County, Alexandria and Montgomery County, Maryland, schools, according to online catalogs.
Langton, in an interview Friday, said she had never spoken up at a school board meeting before, but the books were so obscene that she had to speak up.
She said she heard about the books earlier this month at a school board meeting in Texas, and became curious whether they were available. Sure enough, the books her in her son's school library.
The books “are actually so much worse than I ever would have imagined. So much worse,” she said.
“Gender Queer," an illustrated memoir, contains explicit illustrations of oral sex and masturbation. The novel “Lawn Boy” contains graphic descriptions of sex between men and children. Both books were previous winners of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognize “ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18.”
Langton said the fact that school board members felt compelled to interrupt her when she read graphic passages aloud illustrates her point about the books' inappropriate nature.
“I was very angry that they cut me off,” she said.
The controversy is the latest to befuddle Fairfax County's school board, and other across Virginia and the country as conservative parents object to masks in schools, anti-racism curriculum, and policy changes requiring transgender students be referred to by their preferred pronouns.
Asra Nomani, who attended Thursday's meeting and serves as vice president of strategy and investigations at Parents Defending Education, a recently formed advocacy group, said the high-handed response from the school board to Langton's concerns reflects the divide between activist school board members and parents.
"It's very unfair to demonize and marginalize parents, because they have serious concerns," Nomani said.
One school board member, Karl Frisch, offered a defense of sorts on Twitter, saying Thursday night that “nothing will disrupt our Board's commitment to LGBTQIA+ students, families and staff. Nothing.” But he was not explicit about whether his tweet was in response to Langton's comments. He declined comment Friday.