LCSB meeting 10/22/19

Community members supporting and protesting the implementation of diverse classroom libraries in Loudoun County Public Schools packed the board room at Tuesday's Loudoun County School Board meeting.

Tuesday night’s Loudoun County School Board meeting ran for nearly six hours, thanks in part to massive community participation in the debate surrounding diverse classroom libraries.

“I think that that’s probably the longest meeting we’ve ever had, or pretty dang close to it,” Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles District) said before motioning to adjourn at approximately 12:22 a.m.

More than 70 Loudoun County Public Schools parents, students, staff and community members participated in the evening’s public comment, the vast majority commenting on the recently added diverse book collections.

Earlier this year, LCPS implemented the program in an effort to “diversify the books available to students, understanding that the prevalent culture is already represented in our collections,” according to the LCPS English Language Arts website. Newly added books include titles relating to “diverse race, culture, language [and] religion,” as well as disabilities and LGBTQ-related subjects.

Starting last month, however, concerned citizens have publicly addressed content in certain titles that they believe to be gratuitously sexually explicit or graphically violent, referencing works that are available to students as young as kindergarten age. In the weeks since, more and more people have voiced support of maintaining the collection as it currently stands.

The board room was packed Tuesday, with many attendees dressed according to their stances on the matter: those supporting the preservation of diverse classroom libraries dressed in purple; those against the new collection or in favor of its modification wore green.

Members of both factions held up signs during public comment displaying messages such as the following: “Books aren’t sin — hate is,” “LCPS buys pornography,” “Books save lives,” and “Diverse, not perverse.”

Among the ardent proponents for diverse classroom libraries was Farmwell Station Middle School English teacher Jonathan Radow, who was concerned that the School Board would consider eradicating titles with LGBTQ content, an action he firmly called “censorship.”

“If you concede to one group of parents, then you have to consider conceding to every single demand for censorship. Removing all books with LGBTQ content from these classroom libraries because a handful of parents are opposed to their content would be a hugely disproportionate and inappropriate response,” Radow said. “These types of books often reach kids who feel like they have never been heard before in their lives.”

Of a similar opinion was student Rachel Hollinger, who identifies as non-binary and asexual.

“I don’t often see myself represented in the books that we have. I mean, I do, but I’d like to see more. I am not obscene. I don’t understand that,” Hollinger said.

Equally passionate were citizens who advocated for modification or removal of the collection, several of whom recited passages from books that they considered objectionable.

School Board candidates Mike Neely and Ram Venkatachalam — running to represent the Sterling District and Blue Ridge District, respectively — expressed their support for diverse reading material in schools but objected against overtly graphic literature being made available to minors.

“I am calling you to be guardians of our children, my most precious possession. I am all for diversity. I love my LGBT brothers and sisters just as I love everyone of God’s creation. Don’t sit here and use the buzzwords,” Neely said.

“Make no mistake, I like diverse books, but clearly some of the content in there and material are outrageous,” Venkatachalam added. “I would like the current School Board and administration to make sure the books are reviewed, and those that are obscene don’t get to our bookshelves. I’ll ensure to do the same when I am sworn in and get on the School Board in January 2020.”

A number of addresses were met with applause, despite Morse’s numerous reminders to attendees to maintain decorum. Commenters continued to approach the podium until around 8:16 p.m., nearly two hours into the meeting.

Following approval of the consent agenda, Superintendent Eric Williams acknowledged his and LCPS administration’s responsibility for not sufficiently communicating information on the new program to parents and board members, who were not formally notified of the new book collections until September.

"While some communication did occur, the timing and nature of that communication should've been different. For example, it would've made sense to have had a public conversation with the School Board regarding this initiative before we launched it, rather than informing them of the initiative after it was launched," Williams said.

Later in the evening, after the board discussed and voted on several action items including revisions to the LCPS assessment and grading policy, Morse introduced a discussion of the matter as an information item.

“I believe, as do several other board members, that the effort to expand diversity of characters in books offered in our school libraries has resulted in unexpected outcomes," Morse said. "This conversation is not a witch hunt, it is not a book burning. It is merely an effort to clarify or to correct either the process followed or the policy that’s been approved."

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis began by echoing Williams's sentiments that communication to families and the board could have been better handled.

"We notified principals about the diverse library collections at the end of July; they subsequently received suggested language and talking points to share with their parent communities in September when the books were scheduled to arrive," Ellis said. "Clearly, we should’ve communicated earlier and with more specifics, with principals, parents and the School Board.”

Ellis proceeded to delineate several concerns regarding diverse reading materials. She emphasized the following points: diverse literature is not mandatory assigned reading, nor should it be used in instruction "without clear ties to a lesson;" library materials are selected by “library media specialists, reading specialists and district-level library and reading staff in consultation with library experts;" and LCPS Policy 5-7 outlines the procedure for challenging a certain title, which all LCPS parents have the right and ability to do.

According to Ellis, administrators plan to review Policy 5-7 this school year, beginning with staff conversations and recommendations. She also said that LCPS has so far received appeals regarding only one book: "My Princess Boy" by Cheryl Kilodavis, a picture book about a young boy who likes to dress up in traditionally feminine garb.

Ellis then opened the floor to comments and questions from the board, starting with Debbie Rose (Algonkian District), who said she had no intent of book-burning, censorship or eliminating titles that deal with LGBTQ matters.

“Those books should be available to students who are in those categories or would like to learn about that," she said.

However, she still expressed disturbance at the “overt and explicit sexual content that is in some of the books that have been read here. When it crosses over to being duplicitous, harmful and really, really beyond the scope of what’s necessary to discuss LGBTQ issues or other issues of diversity, then we have crossed over.”

Joy Maloney (Broad Run District) disagreed, saying it's easy to condemn books for containing mature content while ignoring the overall context and addressing public commenters who took issue with certain LGBTQ-related titles.

“The fact that you’re calling those out in particular when it’s discussing something like a student who is identifying themselves as gay ... to me it’s disingenuous," she said. She also singled out speakers who recited Bible verses at the podium, referring to Judges 19 — which describes the gang rape, murder and dismemberment of a young woman — and telling listeners to "go reference your Bible if you’d like that as something pulled out of context.”

"I would encourage people who have read the excerpts out loud to read the entire book if you haven’t. I know it’s important to think of things in the entire text; there can be a lot of different meanings and assertions made based on an excerpt," Beth Huck (At-Large) added before encouraging concerned parents to take advantage of the challenge process if they feel compelled to do so.

Students' relatability to and understanding of difficult, complex issues was a primary concern of Chris Croll (Catoctin District), referencing a real-life situation involving a past LCPS pupil.

"There was one example where a student read about a rape and, unfortunately, was raped herself several years later," Croll recalled. "The mother sent us a note saying, 'That book saved my daughter’s life because she could relate to the character in that book, and we were able to use the language in that book to talk about what happened to her.'"

When asked by Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) whether an opt-out process for parents uncomfortable with certain reading materials is delineated in school policy, Ellis said there is nothing specific in writing, though "our teachers are inclined to accommodate parent requests."

"I think it’s a good thing that the policy and regulation is going to be revised before any other books are purchased," Sheridan replied. "Perhaps the opt-out portion can be added to policy or regulation so that parents can have not just a practice, but something that is written down in policy."

Tom Marshall (Leesburg District) opined that LCPS "may have dropped the ball" in the book review process, though Ellis disagreed, saying review committees "did an adequate job using the resources they have and the library experts that we worked with to create these school libraries.” Among resources referenced in the review process are professional assessments published by Kirkus and age-based reviews by Common Sense Media.

When Marshall asked whether Ellis anticipated such an uproarious response to diverse classroom libraries, she simply replied, "No."

Morse rounded out the evening by expressing his distaste with books that he believes "sell [themselves] through sensationalism and graphic terms" while also aiming to tackle important, worthwhile issues.

"We looked at this huge distribution of books. 99 percent … of those books are great. They’re exactly what we need, they’re diversity, they reflect the community and the needs of the children," Morse said. "These [books] are specific to children. These are in an educational environment. We should be educating them, and we should be turning them on to the thrill of reading, but not via sensationalist, graphic sex and violence."

A video of the full Tuesday meeting is available online at vimeo.com/368135621.

(32) comments

Ocarina

It is entirely legitimate for those who fund schools with their money to voice their concerns about what is being taught to their children. Merely because they do not want LGBT nonsense in the schools does not make them people worthy of ridicule.

The two-person mixed sexual structure (or hetero-sexual structure) is literally human definition itself, since everything that is "human" is based strictly upon it. This is the Human Order - once known as "Human Nature." But if we support corruptions of Human Nature, even teaching such corruption to our children, then there remains no logical reason to forbid many other unnatural structures. If we accept LGBT nonsense for example, and then slip it to our children in books, we have no logical reason to forbid books about boys who like to have sex with sheep and cows. If we approve books about children with two mothers, then we have no logical reason to deny books about three, five, or ten mothers. Please. Sit down and try to find a logical reason to deny any of this nonsense. You will fail. You will fail because you already accepted LGBT nonsense, destroying the natural two-person, male-female human nature that defines us all.

And please do not run to the utter nonsense of "consent." Five humans can consent to have sex together and to marry one another. Fifty humans can consent, and there is no logical reason to deny them marriage or anything else that we now permit to other non-human structured groups. The only reason that gays currently limit themselves to two people in their so-called "marriages" is because that is the standard that is naturally established with real marriage. Every human is a literal direct biological marriage of two people, always one man and one woman. That is the Human Order. We should teach this to our children so that they know what is good and true, instead of all the LGBT stupidity that we now push on them.

We are logically vulnerable to all sorts of other nonsense. And we cannot appeal to "consent" for any of it. If, for example, one can feed an animal without consent, or wash it with soap, cut its hair, clip its claws, remove its ovaries, take out its testicles, clip its tail, clip its ears, cut off its horns, grind it up and make patties of it, all without consent, then surely one can have sex with it without consent. Consent is just an intellectually bankrupt term that LGBT supporters use to deny what they know to be icky and non-human so that they can maintain the icky and non-human behavior of those who claim to be LGBT. It is entirely bankrupt, both morally and intellectually - and yet we are allowing these people to bully us and now force their trash on our children.

Enough. I am not going to lie and talk nonsense about respecting LGBT anything. It is perverse, outside of human nature, and we all know it. I have no respect for it. Sleep with whomever you wish. Sleep with whatever you wish. Leave our children out of it.

Virginia SGP

Spot on logically. Now that marriage is not for children (but to gain SS rights, healthcare, etc), the gov't should get out of marriage altogether. Just provide contracts and let religious groups decide what they sanction independently. Ultimately, this will hurt families (women and kids) because of less stable structures, but the liberals demand that.

Good Guy

Thx for adding a bit of sanity to this debate.

romano

nothing more than a screeching tiny minority once again pushing their radical agenda on everyone else....in this case children...through a school board terrified of being labeled. This tiny majority is dramatically out of the mainstream but you'd never know it from the media's portrayal. Taxpayers should not be forced to pay for this stuff, which is largely offensive to most of them.

Good Guy

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EvilHomer

This is so great. The right wingers who want to control what everyone else reads (and thinks, and says, and does in the privacy of their own home and doctor's office) can't handle it when it's pointed out that their Stone Age source material is filled with some of the most graphic, horrifying violence and sexual assault ever committed to paper. More of this, please.

Phil Tatler

Lets speak truth here, whoever you are. I don't know what a "right winger" is, but I'd rather children read graphic material like these books OUTSIDE of my tax funded schools. That's all. Not trying to control anybody's private life. As for the Bible--yup, full of sex and violence, because it is about HUMANITY. We haven't changed much, I'm afraid, but we can try and do better! BTW--did you want the Bible censored? Outlawed? Removed from the schools?

Chris McHale

Phil - yes I want the Bible kept out of school for the same reason I want the IRS kept out of the Church. You can have one without the other.

md5

Just to clarify the statements in the article: "According to Ellis, administrators plan to review Policy 5-7 this school year, beginning with staff conversations and recommendations. She also said that LCPS has so far received appeals regarding only one book: "My Princess Boy" by Cheryl Kilodavis, a picture book about a young boy who likes to dress up in traditionally feminine garb."

...MANY books have been challenged and are undergoing the 45-day school-level review. If I understood Ellis' explanation, only two of those challenges (regarding a single book) have been escalated to the district-level appeal where a county-wide judgement would be made at the superintendent's office.

Phil Tatler

Thanks very much for covering the meeting. It appears some facts may have been overlooked, like the crowd and the 1 minute speeches were overwhelmingly against these books, Maybe as much as 3 to 1. Also-the books were stealthily “donated” by the United Nations! Furthermore, in my opinion, comparing this filth to classics like Lord of the Flies and the Bible defies logic and reason. The article is slightly biased in support of the books. If our point has not been sufficiently communicated, the next speakers you hear will simply read 1 minute excerpts from these books until no one can stand any longer!

DavisB

hey phil, no one is making your kids read these books. But if a kid wants to read, why not let them?

Phil Tatler

Yes, of course. Read whatever you want. But get pornography somewhere other than the public schools.

Good Guy

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md5

Based on this article, it sounds like the typcial LCPS cop-out response of "we should have communicated more clearly, then you would understand". What we understand is that the LCPS board doesn't care about the parents' pleas for sober judgement on an extremely divisive issue. The board is really saying they would rather adhere defend a policy the majority of Loudoun parents disagree with so as not to incur the Rainbow Wrath. This should be on the forefront of every voter's mind. I'd say "vote your conscience" on the school board election in November, but it doesn't look like a lot of diversity-in-thought among 90% of the candidates.

Phil Tatler

“Rainbow Wrath” rendered by the Gaystopo .

Good Guy

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ConcernedCitizen

Please prove your majority of parents comment. I would like to see those numbers. Or I should assume you and your like minded ilk, speak for everyone?

Phil Tatler

I was there. Trust me. I don't lie.

David Hazard

There are diverse viewpoints and life perspectives that need to be represented. Many parents and children in this county identify differently from the hetero viewpoint and experience. Parents are the gatekeepers and values-clarifiers of their own children's experience - not everyone elses' - and those who identify as hetero can explain their understanding to their own children. Policing material everyone else can have access to doesn't work in any case. Your kids are on the internet and talking to each other. What the objections to diverse books in the libraries really amounts to is an attempt to label other people as "wrong" or "unhealthy". This IS a diverse, progressive county, whether you like it or not.

Phil Tatler

So you are saying everything that is not LGBQTetc is the “hetero viewpoint and experience “?

Ocarina

There is no reason to represent any viewpoint and life perspective that is not of The Human Order, which, is genetic male+ genetic female. This is the structure of essential humanity in every case that has ever been and that ever will be. Just because someone "identifies", with obvious falsity, as a fruitcake, or a homosexual, or any other thing outside of the human order, is no reason to force our children to accept it.

Virginia SGP

For "Dr" Ellis to say that LCPS (not any individual on the reviewing committee) did not "drop the ball" demonstrates how senior administrators are NEVER accountable. Tom Marshall was not implying the committee members dropped the ball, he is saying "Dr" Ellis and Supt Williams dropped the ball!!! That is indisputable. They (i) allowed extreme outside groups propose controverisal books for inclusion without being transparent, (ii) did not provide sufficient scrutiny to those controversial books with an attached agenda to ensure they were appropriate, (iii) failed to provide sufficient information and background to principals, and (iv) appear to have intentionally withheld this information from parents. Let's be very clear here. Ashley "we can't have any objective metrics on LCPS because we could never achieve them" Ellis and Supt Eric "what's wrong with making executive decisions with the school board without informing any other stakeholder" Williams should not be running LCPS. Voters need to put candidates in charge who will fix this administration.

Good Guy

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Good Guy

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David Dickinson

Maybe LCPS students need the graphic books because when they get assaulted on campus they need somewhere to turn to? And, let's hear Williams say one more time that something wasn't done correctly...and then extend his contract and give him a raise.

There is a new Dept of Education report out that stated that 31% of American students are no longer in traditional public school. Is it any wonder why when you read this garbage?

School Board elections are in a couple of weeks. Clean house and get rid of all incumbents.

Good Guy

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Good Guy

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Anneg

Joy Maloney said, “Somebody came up and referenced a book with profanity which I don’t think is appropriate for this setting...” So she thinks that adults should not discuss the inappropriate profanity that our CHILDREN are ok to read??? The irony! And she said, “Go reference *your* Bible...” when speaking about how the Bible has violent passages. What disrespect to the Christian community! People don’t say “your” Quran or “your” Book of Morman, or “your” (Insert any religious text). What public servant advocating for children says this disrespectful and bigoted comment in a public setting? And by the way that’s why there are CHILDREN’s Bibles, to filter out content inappropriate for children until they are ready to handle mature themes, while still getting across the main point! I will not be sorry to see her go.

David Dickinson

Because Joy Maloney is an anti-Christian biggot and her statements, actions, and votes have proven it repeatedly.

DavisB

Go ahead a filter what your kids read but let other parents decide for themselves not to be afraid of difference in the world

Good Guy

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Phil Tatler

Pull the books, Joy, or the next meeting will be so full of graphic sex, violence and profanity you may close the meeting down--because many of us are just going to read excerpts form this trash!

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