Conservative parents activists want Maryland schools to ban two books. The new school board member accepts. – The Baltimore Sun

Julie McShane read the first 30 pages of the “Gender Queer” graphic novel last year and decided she couldn’t continue.

For the mother and local conservative activist, the author’s exploration of sexual and gender identity seemed intended to confuse children. She concluded that it did not belong in the school libraries or classrooms from which her three now adult children were enrolled.

Since then, the president of the Baltimore County Republican Women’s Association, McShane, has rallied her network of activists and civic groups to lobby for the book’s removal from shelves in Baltimore County schools, which serve approx. 111,000 students. She has sent complaint forms and two letters regarding books she does not find appropriate to schools, following the school system’s internal review process for challenging titles.

Even as the system’s leaders dismissed the complaints, a relatively small group of activists expanded their objections to an additional book, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Ivison, and plans to investigate 10 more unnamed titles. They believe that distributing books is criminal—like distributing obscene material to a minor—even when county prosecutors disagree.

Both books are among the most defiantly written by conservative activists in the country. Their efforts in Baltimore County have little chance of success but still attract the support of new school board member Maggie Litz-Domanowsky. I signed a petition In November she called for the book to be removed but insisted she would not present the book ban agenda to the school board.

“There is a place for this kind of book,” Domanovsky said. “I don’t think this place exists in a Baltimore County public school.”

School librarians and administrators say parents always have the right to think about what their children read, but they are limited in controlling what other students can read.

For decades, the nation’s schools, universities, and public libraries have They served as arenas for censorship debates And I encountered repeated attempts to restrict some book titles. After a record 1,597 books were challenged in 2021, attempts to ban books across the country are mounting, according to the American Library Association. The association counted 1,651 unique addresses facing scrutiny between January and August of 2022.

The Maryland Association of School Librarians says its collections have been developed according to principles of intellectual freedom and include titles that meet the needs of diverse communities. The nonprofit organization condemns efforts to censor books and remove them from the shelves of school libraries, saying they threaten students’ rights to read, explore, and engage with literature.

Many Maryland school systems have review policies in place that allow parents, staff, and students, among others, to request a review. Most review policies ask the interested party if they have read the book in question, said Tatanisha Love, president of the Association of State School Librarians.

Love said that school librarians usually oppose limiting access to all children based on a complaint from a parent.

“We want parents to realize that they can direct what children read in their homes and not others outside the home,” she said.

Discussions about banning the books have recently erupted across Maryland, with school systems in Baltimore City, Howard County, and several Eastern Shore jurisdictions being asked to remove titles from shelves.

In 2021, Howard County parents filed a police report regarding the presence of “gender” in school libraries. The Howard County State’s Attorney found that the book did not violate the law. School officials reviewed the book according to its policy and decided to keep the title in media centers in high school libraries.

Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester county school boards heard complaints last year about headlines featuring stories about LGBTQ and/or Black or Aboriginal youth of colour, The Salisbury Daily Times reported in March.

Baltimore City faced pressure Last year’s Republican nominee for governor Dan Cox to remove Democratic opponent Wes Moore’s book From the Baltimore City Public School curriculum. Governor’s book, titled “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates,” is still included as an elective text in Baltimore City’s ninth-grade language arts curriculum.

The movement in Baltimore County spilled over into a year-long endeavor. McShane first registered her objections to “gender” in a letter to the school system in January 2022. She and about 100 other activists formally requested an internal review, but received no response during the 30-day period in which the school system promised to respond.

A network of activists and civic groups want her removed

In November, the activists, along with the boycott chapter of the Patriot Club of America, a grassroots conservative group, again sent out a letter regarding their issues with “Gay Sex” and another book, “Lawn Boy,” which follows author Evison’s likeness Autobiographical experiences as a young Mexican American going through hardship and self-discovery.

They claim that “Lawn Boy” contains 18 clips of sexual content or profane language, which violates a Maryland law prohibiting the distribution of obscene descriptions or images of unlawful sex to minors.

Mary McComas, the chief academic officer for Baltimore County Schools, responded to the campaigners later in the month, saying that “Gay Sex,” which is in two high school libraries, will remain as per the committee’s recommendation. She wrote that parents can request that their children not have access to it.

Scott Schellenberger, the Baltimore state attorney general, said his office reviewed the “gay sex” issue in the spring.

In a November interview with The Baltimore Sun, Shellenberger’s office said that Shellenberger’s office considered whether its content and distribution to minors could be considered a crime. County prosecutors reviewed sections of Maryland’s criminal code that relate to the production, possession, and distribution of child pornography. The Democratic state’s attorney said he was not familiar with “Lawn Boy” and that his office had not reviewed that title.

Shellenberger said the state laws he reviewed refer to a “real” or “identifiable” child, which means that depictions of a fictional child would not constitute a crime. Maryland law specifically states that the definition of an identifiable child does not include drawings, cartoons, sculptures, or paintings.

“It doesn’t mean it’s right to be in the library,” Shellenberger said. “I just decide if this is criminal.”

Shellenberger declined to say whether he thought the book should be available to public school students.

“Someone else decides,” he said.

McShane and other activists say they are frustrated that the school system has not taken their concerns seriously or followed its own protocols for response.

“Why would I spend time and effort encouraging people who attend our meetings to fill out forms that Baltimore County pays no attention to themselves?” McShane said. “This is a waste of my time.”

For now, the books remain on the shelves of the Baltimore County School Library, but newly elected and appointed school board members like Domanowski took their seats in December. Their leadership could usher in a new era for the school system, but it is unclear whether they will find consensus to ban books in the province.

Born in the Garden to Jonathan Evison

Domanovsky insists she signed the letter as a parent — not an elected official. She read “Lawn Boy” and said she understands that the book delivers a “cool” message, but the insults and depiction of minors engaging in sexual activity make it inappropriate for a school setting.

“Baltimore County Public Schools endorses this book,” Domanowski said. “I think there are better books that can teach the same message without being clichéd.”

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