Patti Menders, School Board metting

Patti Menders holds up a sign bearing a passage from the novel “Monday’s Not Coming” during the May 11 Loudoun County School Board meeting.

Loudoun County Public Schools has initiated division-level reviews of two high school-level books after parents decried the respective texts’ inclusion of sexual and violent content.

LCPS announced its review of the novels “Monday’s Not Coming” by Tiffany D. Jackson and “#MurderTrending” by Gretchen McNeil on Tuesday.

“The reviewing committee will make a recommendation to the superintendent when the process is complete,” officials said.

The announcement comes one week after several local parents criticized the Loudoun County School Board for offering the books to students as early as ninth grade.

During the May 11 board meeting, parents read aloud passages from both books with graphic descriptions of oral sex, male genital size and a scene in which a woman is beaten and locked in a closet.

Some of the speakers at last week’s meeting also carried posters bearing printouts of the passages in question.

“If this is inappropriate for me to read to you, this is inappropriate for our children,” parent Patti Menders said. “Please get these dirty books out of our schools.”

“That violates the district’s own policy on sexual harassment because it’s creating a hostile learning environment by forcing our children to sit and have discussions about pornography,” Ashburn parent Elizabeth Perrin told the Times-Mirror, referring to LCPS Policy §8-6.

Perrin, speaking on behalf of local parent group Fight for Schools, further opined that assigning books like “Monday’s Not Coming” — which she said depicts violence and abuse involving minorities — contradicts the school system’s racial equity efforts.

“We’re trying to overcome stereotypes, right? Why, if that is the case, are we giving them books that normalize physical abuse, sexual abuse, rape, murder, by people of the same community [LCPS is] trying to raise up?” said Perrin, whose children were not assigned either book.

According to a description on the LCPS website, “Monday’s Not Coming” follows a girl named Claudia who “seems to be the only one who notices” when her best friend, Monday Charles, goes missing.

It is included in the LCPS “diverse classroom libraries” collection for all high school grades.

In an email Wednesday to the Times-Mirror, LCPS Public Information Officer Wayde Byard said secondary reading materials are “selected through a combination of staff review/survey/feedback, publisher materials in the core curriculum and curriculum committees.”

LCPS has said that both “Monday’s Not Coming” and “#MurderTrending” are optional reading materials. Byard added that the books are part of a group of books from which students can pick in order to fulfill assigned reading requirements.

“Students are always able to choose other texts to satisfy the assignment,” he said.

Perrin said her understanding was that “optional” merely referred to parents’ right to request alternate texts for their children, and that the two books were specifically assigned in the classroom.

On Sunday morning, School Board member Beth Barts (Leesburg District) said on Facebook that she had read “Monday’s Not Coming” over the weekend.

She said she expected the book “to be significantly about sex” but opined that it “is not.”

“This book tells the story of a year-long search by a 13-year-old for her best friend and the impact it had on her life,” Barts wrote, adding that it has her “full support” as a high school reading option.

“#MurderTrending,” which parents noted for a passage in which a male character’s genitals are graphically described, is not part of the diverse classroom libraries at LCPS.

Publishers Weekly describes the book — published by Disney-Hyperion — as a “biting satire of reality shows and today’s U.S. political atmosphere.”

After last week’s board meeting, LCPS shared a statement reminding parents that they may request their children be assigned alternate texts if they find certain books inappropriate.

Officials further reiterated that parents may submit a formal request that LCPS staff reconsider particular reading materials, as outlined in School Board Policy 5045 — “Selection, Review and Challenge of Instructional Resources.”

Reading materials are first reviewed at the school level, and a division-level review can occur either upon request or as an appeal of a school-level decision.

Per School Board policy, LCPS Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler must notify the complainant of the result of the division-level review within 30 days of the review request or appeal being filed.

Once the division-level decision is announced, the complainant may appeal it to the School Board.

LCPS is no stranger to criticism toward its diverse classroom libraries, which the school system website describes as having been “created … to identify culturally responsive and diverse texts.”

In the fall of 2019, dozens of parents voiced concern to the School Board that the then-recently added collection used the concept of diversity as a “Trojan horse” to slip in titles containing age-inappropriate, sometimes sexually explicit or graphically violent content.

Crowds of commenters packed the boardroom at the LCPS Administrative Building in Ashburn for meetings in October and November 2019 to voice support and disdain for the diverse classroom libraries.

The discourse prompted comments from board members during a Nov. 12 meeting, lamenting the “hate and anger” stirred up over the matter.

Perrin sees the most recent controversy surrounding reading materials as the latest in a series of leadership blunders that has led her to support recall efforts against six School Board members.

Those members include Barts, Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District), Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District), Denise Corbo (At-Large), Leslee King (Broad Run) and Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District).

“They have shown us by their own examples that they are incapable of leadership unless it is for their own agenda and not for all of the constituents in Loudoun County,” Perrin said.

She added that she “will be on the front lines” collecting signatures to support the recall efforts.

Per the Code of Virginia, petitions to remove an official from elected office must be signed by a number of people from the official’s jurisdiction equal to 10 percent of that office’s voter count in the last election.

Roughly 17,400 votes are required across all districts for all six recalls to move forward, with required vote counts per official ranging from 1,234 for King to 10,785 for Corbo, according to the Fight for Schools website.

Fight for Schools spokesperson Ian Prior estimated 2,500 signatures had been collected across all districts as of Tuesday. He and other recall advocates plan to file the petitions in court once the necessary signatures are accrued.

(2) comments

romano

is the LTM really, with a straight face, quoting Beth Barts as a legitimate voice on this? Farcical.

dbressette

Here we go again with the banning of books in LCPS. Elizabeth Perrin (whose children were not assigned the books) cannot decide what all students in LCPS can read. If she wants to restrict her own children's reading, that is her prerogative. It is also noted in the article that these are optional texts. I don't want Ms. Perrin to decide what LCPS students can read. Ms. Perrin can definitely decide for her own kids, but not mine.

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