A principal and assistant principal with the Kent School District have tried to remove books with LGBTQIA+ themes. The principals claim that the books were too mature for their middle school audience, but faced resistance from the school librarian. Emails reveal the principal and assistant principal created a list of LGBTQIA-themed books which were all reviewed after a single LGBTQ-themed book received a student complaint.
Around January 24th, I was made aware that a principal within the Kent School District was removing books from the school library with LGBTQIA+ themes. When I reached out to the principal and assistant principal I was assured that I “have been misinformed” and that only two books were removed due to complaints raised by students. I immediately filed a public records request to dig into the matter.
On January 6th, Principal Hanson and Assistant Principal Lynch-Allen exchanged emails between each other reviewing a list of four books. These were some of the items the library had recently purchased, but one theme ties the review list all together, they each had LGBTQIA+ themes. This list would not be for recommendations, but for challenging books for removal. Next to “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Matthew Johnson, Lynch-Allen commented “need to know more about this” while the remaining were marked “OK”.
The investigation into all newly purchased LGBTQIA-themed books was prompted by a student complaint over one title, “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)” by Lev AC Rosen. From the alleged timeline produced by staff at the school, the complaint originated on December 9th of last year. On the same day the principal determines that the book is to be challenged, January 6th, the list is discussed. A link from the conservative Daily Caller is also shared by the principal. In a later email she states, “[The assistant principal] began reviewing the list of books that [the librarian] purchased… Red flags were on one, so I looked it up. NEWS STORY.”
Out of these fives books, two would be challenged: Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts), and All Boys Aren’t Blue. On January 11th, these efforts would be escalated to include other schools. Principal Hanson emails several other KSD staff these titles. Soon after, other school librarians begin communicating that the principals of these schools are also asking about these books.
It’s spreading. Nathan just called me. His principal came to talk to him, and asked about Jack of Hearts, and also “All Boys Aren’t Blue” (which I just ordered last week).Downing, School Librarian stated by email.
Principal Hanson argued that the authority to remove books lied with the Principal in this context under KSD policies. While the principal and assistant principal reject the notion that these actions are harming the LGBTQIA+ community and fundamental rights, they state it is just that these particular books are “not age appropriate”. In the complaint written for “All Boys Aren’t Blue” the principal writes that they would like to “remove the book… where students are not in the 14-18 year old demographic” and replace it with “the dozens if not hundreds of books targeted to middle school age students”.
In the principal’s findings she would also challenge “If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo. In the email which she cites her authority to remove books she says, “After my review I have made the decision… to remove Jack of Hearts. If I was your girl and all other sexually explicit texts that are not previously approved by Kent School District will be considered under review until appropriateness… is determined.”
Placing all these challenged titles and their scores together, we see these justifications quickly fall short and rely not on any qualitative or quantitative score but on personal bias. The table below shows how their challenges seem to be independent of the grade and age scores given by publishers.
|Title||Age Audience (Amazon)||Grade Level (Amazon)||Challenged|
|“A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities” by Mady G.||14-17||7th-9th||No|
|“All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George Matthew Johnson||14-18||10th-12th||Yes|
|“Between Perfect and Real” by Ray Stoeve||12+||7th+||No|
|“Gabi, a Girl in Pieces” by Isabel Quintero||14-18||10th-12th||No|
|“If I Was Your Girl” by Meredith Russo||13-18||7th-9th||Yes|
|“Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)” by Lev AC Rosen||14+||9th+||Yes|
I spoke with several librarians outside of the school district who stated that these age guidelines are not hard-and-fast rules, but that they’re meant to be flexible and will vary with each individual. The question comes to mind why the students who challenged these books could not just put the book down? These were not required materials for any class; they are available at the leisure of students who may enjoy them.
The reality seems to be that what drove the decision to challenge these particular books is not a score, not an objective or measurable quality, but discomfort with queer sexual themes. Not every book is meant to make people feel comfortable, nor should they. And, we know there are many books with cultural significance and sexually explicit passages which we allow middle school students to have access to through school libraries, such as books with religious themes which we understand should be protected. This is just an unfortunate attempt to hide internal biases under the guise of “protecting children”, an old canard that the LGBTQIA+ community is all too familiar with.