NEWBURYPORT — Local parents are pushing back against a letter signed by ACLU Massachusetts asking schools not to ban books.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders sent out a letter Monday urging state public school districts to protect students’ legal rights by rejecting censorship in school libraries.
The eight-page letter signed by GLAD Senior Director of Civil Rights Mary L. Bonauto and the ACLU Massachusetts Director of the Racial Justice Program Traci Griffith, was sent to the Massachusetts Associations of School Superintendents and School Committees, as well as individual superintendents and state education officials.
The letter states that the ACLU and GLAD are responding to a rise in calls for public schools to remove library books from their shelves, while efforts to ban books and pass classroom censorship bills are increasing, nationwide.
Many of the calls to ban books are also aimed at removing texts written by or about LGBTQ people, communities of color, and other marginalized groups, according to the ACLU and GLAD.
The letter drew instant condemnation from local parent advocacy group Citizens for Responsible Education which drew considerable attention last summer and fall for its criticism of the Newburyport Public Schools and books made available in the middle and high school libraries or on a student app (SORA) that they believe should not be in the hands of kids.
A spokesperson for Citizens For Responsible Education said in an email Monday that no member of the group has ever advocated for a book to be banned.
“We have made it crystal clear that sexually explicit books should not be made available on public school property or via the SORA app to minors. If a parent or child would like to purchase books such as ‘Gender Queer,’ ‘This Book is Gay,’ etc., with their own money, then so be it. There is zero educational value to these books and a waste of taxpayer dollars. In fact, giving a child instructions on how to hook up with an adult via a sex app is dangerous on its own merits,” the email reads.
Local mother of two, Kerri Glynn also expressed her concern over the issue saying she has researched a lot of books, such as “Go Ask Alice,” by Beatrice Sparks, “Lucky,” by Alice Sebold, “Heroine,” by Mindy McGinnis, “Wintergirls,” by Laurie Halse Anderson, “Gym Candy,” by Carl Dueker, and “Milk and Honey,” by Rupi Kaur, that she said can be found in school libraries.
Glynn asked local parents and the school district to ask themselves if the material has a useful and enriching application in the schools.
But Glynn also said she is not calling to ban any materials. But she would, however, prefer to see more parents become more involved in their children’s education.
“A big part of the problem is people are not taking the time to do the research. I don’t speak for other movements or groups but this is not about targeting minorities. I’m asking that people just read the books and ask yourselves if this appropriate for minors. There’s a lot of sexually inappropriate material in these books that also includes information on how to use sex apps, drug use and violence. This is not ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ or ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ those are G-rated compared to these books,” she said.
Glynn also advocated for more discussion between local parents and the School Committee about potentially offensive material.
“When you are picking books, ask yourself, is this educational and appropriate for minors? Or is it teaching about sex? There needs to be more discussion about this and you can’t have it at a School Committee meeting, if it’s not on agenda. Things are getting very polarized. So, let’s try to pick a book or two, read it and see if it is hard to read as adult and ask what the benefit is for a minor child reading it? Because, the school budget consumes the largest portion of the city’s budget and, as a taxpayer we’re paying for it,” she said.
School Superintendent Sean Gallagher said, in a statement, that the district has shared, “extensive information on our school libraries” since last summer and reiterated that school libraries are staffed with full-time state certified library media specialists, who guide the development of the materials.
“To make sure children from all types of families and backgrounds feel welcome, schools work to create a learning space where children can say, ‘I belong here.’ We do this by making sure every child can see themselves as a hero in literature, a character in history, and athlete on the field, a musician on the stage, or following any dream they may have,” he wrote.
Gallagher added he was confident the district will create a sense of belonging for every one of its over 2,200 students by respectfully following the procedures put in place to manage state public school library collections.
Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Newburyport for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.