In the face of parent complaints, the West Chester Area School District continues to keep controversial books on its middle and high school shelves, including extreme adult language and graphic images of sex.
At the April school board meeting, parents read some of the more explicit content of the books. Superintendent Bob Sokolowski responded by reiterating his support for keeping the controversial content in schools. “I’m standing, students. I’m standing with you and some of the things I heard tonight, we’re talking about freedom of speech. We’re talking about choice. We’re talking about choice and we’re talking about listening to the voice of our students and students, my pledge to you: We’re going to turn that volume up and you’re going to hear the student’s voice.”
Anita Edgarian, a mom, told Delaware Valley Journal that the “superintendent of WCASD pledges to ‘turn it up’ to LGBTQ students after many parents read from sexually explicit materials in our library. The rest of the students don’t matter.”
Mike Winterode told the board that when concerned parents, grandparents, and residents spoke about the books at a previous meeting, they were accused of being intolerant and transphobic. But many of the books they are complaining about include explicit scenes of heterosexual sex as well.
“Those speakers are missing the point. They’re only focused on the transgender characters in the books and not the content of the book itself,” said Winterode. “The fact is, along with [the book] “Gender Queer,” there are a large amount of school district library books containing graphic and obscene content, with heterosexual characters, as well as homosexual and transgender characters. Our concern is with the content, not the characters.”
Winterode noted that the books don’t just “sit innocently on library shelves.” In January, one of his neighbors told the board about his 6th-grade daughter being given a book about gender transition by her teacher.
Winterode noted schools are protected from charges of giving pornography to minors because of a law that exempts education institutions. He called on the state legislators to change that law.
Parent after parent spoke about the library books, some reading shockingly graphic scenes of sexual acts.
“There are many books in our libraries that are not appropriate for even high school-age children,” said Leanne Smith. “Some books include both physical and sexual abuse and even some child grooming.” There are “books listed 18-plus like, ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex.’ Do high schoolers need to read that? You need to take a fine-tooth comb to the libraries in the district.”
Lisa Mansueto said she is concerned about “lack of communication with parents” and “lack of common sense.” She read excerpts from “Tricks” that she called “straight-up pornography with a hefty dose of heroin and cocaine and prostitution and rape, all available to high schoolers.”
Alexis Cooper said, “School librarians seem to feel that minors should have access to all sorts of content even if it’s not age-appropriate.” She cited “Milk and Honey” and the book about tantric sex.
“If this happened in any other setting, adults would be facing charges,” she said. “Yet schools have zero accountability.”
“Leave controversial matters to the parents,” Cooper urged the board.
Several parents, a student, and an author also spoke, telling the board they are in support of keeping the books in the school libraries.
Julie Moyer leads a support group for parents of transgender children. She said most of the books that other parents are objecting to involve LGTBQ-plus information. Transgender youth are four times as likely to commit suicide, she said.
“I am grateful to the school board for voting to keep books like “Gender Queer” on the shelves…We shouldn’t make these books unavailable to the people that need them.”
Edgarian later said those parents who spoke against the pornographic books “respect and love” the LGBTQ students but do not believe these books are age-appropriate.
“I look at the total individual, not only their sexual or gender part, their interests, talents, personality, desires, goals. We need to stop categorizing people,” she said.
Parents in several other Delaware Valley school districts, including Central Bucks, Radnor, and Great Valley have also complained about books with graphic content in their schools. The issue was highlighted in the Republican governor race when former Congressman Lou Barletta recently held a press conference on the topic.