The Spotsylvania County School Board has directed staff to begin removing books that contain “sexually explicit” material from library shelves and report on the number of books that have been removed at a special called meeting next week.
The directive came after a parent raised concerns at the School Board’s meeting Monday about books available through the Riverbend High School’s digital library app.
The board also requested a report next week on the process by which books are selected for inclusion in digital and hard copy library collections at the different school levels and indicated that it will consider a division-wide library audit.
The criteria for pulling books from circulation this week is “sexually explicit,” but the board plans to refine how material is determined to be “objectionable” for a further review of library holdings.
The board voted 6–0 to order the removal. Berkeley District representative Erin Grampp was not in attendance for the vote on that issue.
Two board members, Courtland representative Rabih Abuismail and Livingston representative Kirk Twigg, said they would like to see the removed books burned.
“I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuismail said, and Twigg said he wants to “see the books before we burn them so we can identify within our community that we are eradicating this bad stuff.”
Monday evening’s discussion was spurred by parents of a Riverbend student, who brought their concerns to the meeting.
The mother said during public comments that she was initially alarmed by “LGBTQIA” fiction that she said was immediately made available upon accessing the library app. After doing more research, she discovered a book in the collection that she found more upsetting.
The book, “33 Snowfish” by Adam Rapp, concerns three homeless teenagers attempting to escape from pasts that include sexual abuse, prostitution and drug addiction.
Publisher’s Weekly described “33 Snowfish,” which the American Library Association named a Best Book for Young Adults in 2004, as a “dark tale about three runaways who understand hatred and violence better than love” and noted “readers may have trouble stomaching the language” and the subject matter.
The review recommends the book for ages 15 and up.
Darnela Sims, director of teaching and learning for the school division, said Riverbend High School Principal Troy Wright and school librarians have been looking into the parents’ concerns since they were raised with the school last week.
She asked the board for time for staff to review existing processes for vetting library books.
“It is incumbent on us to make sure that whatever the policy says we need to do, we’re doing, and if something needs to be strengthened, it’s on us to do it,” Sims said.
But Abuismail said that whatever processes are in place “haven’t worked” and demanded an immediate audit of all school division library holdings.
He said he doesn’t like the idea of Rapp’s book being on school division library shelves for one more night and that the fact that it is in a school library means public schools “would rather have our kids reading gay pornography than about Christ.”
Abuismail accused division Superintendent Scott Baker of not being proactive by looking into school library holdings before parents raised concerns.
“Dr. Baker, you saw this coming from Northern Virginia—did it not occur to you to check what is on our libraries?” he asked.
Baker said he will take responsibility for any failure of the process for selecting library books.
“I would not have thought to do an audit because I have great faith and trust in our librarians,” he said. “If we find something being missed in a process, then we do refine the process. There was no ill intent here. We don’t have all the information.”
Battlefield representative Baron Braswell noted that what one person finds offensive, another person might not, and he also asked for time for division staff to examine its internal processes.
“We have to be clear on what is offensive and should not be in our schools and what should be,” he said. “You can’t do an audit of books without developing screening criteria and you have to have facts in order to do that.”
Braswell proposed in a motion that the board receive a report from the superintendent about the circumstances surrounding the inclusion of “33 Snowfish” in the Riverbend library next week and at that time, consider the criteria that would be involved in conducting an audit of our books.
In the end, the board only voted on a substitute to Braswell’s motion, put forward by Lee Hill representative Lisa Phelps, to begin the removal of “sexually explicit” books this week and receive a report next week on how many have been removed.
Twigg said he would like to broaden the criteria for identifying objectionable books.
“There are some bad, evil-related material that we have to be careful of and look at,” he said, without elaborating.