Controversial book permanently pulled from school libraries in Fort Mill

FORT MILL, S.C. — A book that upset people from York County all the way to Gov. Henry McMaster’s office will no longer be on the shelves at high school libraries in Fort Mill.

The book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” contains graphic images that some did not think were appropriate for students to see.

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Channel 9′s Tina Terry has been following this story from the beginning and learned on Thursday that the superintendent made the decision to pull the book.

In an email, leaders at Fort Mill Schools confirmed that the controversial book has been removed from libraries across the district, permanently.

Last week, Tina reported that parents were upset about the book, which explores sexual and gender identity. They said it contained graphic sexual images.

Fort Mill Schools pulled the book temporarily to review it and the governor asked the state to investigate how books with such images could end up in K-12 libraries across the state.

In a statement, Fort Mill Schools said, “The district determined that the book in question does not meet the standard for inclusion in our high school libraries. The district’s decision to permanently remove the book from our high school collections was based on the inclusion of visual imagery that is not age-appropriate for our students.”

Fort Mill parent Ellen Abramo said she was happy that her push to remove the book from Fort Mill schools was successful, and is even leading to statewide changes.

“I’m really thankful that the district listened to what I had to say,” Abramo said.

On Wednesday, South Carolina’s school superintendent, Molly Spearman, sent a letter to the governor that said, in part, “I was both shocked and disappointed that a book containing this explicit imagery was allowed to be present in a school library.”

Abramo said many parents are also asking how the sexual imagery inside the book was overlooked.

“It definitely does raise a lot of questions for a lot of people,” she said. “I think a lot of people have trusted that where the books are coming from is a reputable source and people are reviewing materials. I think we’ve seen that may or may not be happening.”

Fort Mill school policy says the library media specialist is responsible for identifying and ordering books and they are supposed to use unbiased and reputable selection aids in the process. But officials said more than 20,000 books are in school libraries.

“I think Fort Mill is obviously one of the best school districts in South Carolina. I want to say I have every confidence they have a good review process,” Abramo said. “If there was something bad that was released to the kids. My opinion is that it was probably just an oversight.”

Spearman said the state school board of education will step in to create a “model policy that encompasses best practices and includes a strong transparent process by which the public can voice concerns with locally adopted texts.”

McMaster wants investigation into ‘obscene material’ in schools after concerns from local parents

Last week, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster requested that the state superintendent of education “immediately begin a comprehensive investigation into the presence of obscene and pornographic materials in public schools in South Carolina.”

McMaster referred to “pornographic material” found in Fort Mill Schools in a letter to Superintendent Molly Spearman. Parents notified McMaster about a book called “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe.

“By way of example, it is my understanding that concerned parents were recently required to petition the Fort Mill School District to remove a book from a school’s physical or digital library, titled Gender Queer: A Memoir, by Maia Kobabe,” McMaster wrote in the letter.

He said school officials should have “revealed” the book contains “sexually explicit and pornographic depictions, which easily meet or exceed the statutory definition of obscenity.”

>> Read Gov. McMaster’s letter to Superintendent Spearman

“I think people do need to make sure they are examining the literature before they put it on the shelves,” parent Ellen Abramo said.

McMaster said he is worried there is more material like that in the public school system.

“For sexually explicit materials of this nature to have ever been introduced or allowed in South Carolina’s schools, it is obvious that there is or was either a lack of, or a complete breakdown in, any existing oversight processes or the absence of appropriate screening standards. Therefore, I respectfully request that the Department of Education promptly investigate this matter, on a statewide basis, and identify whether any systemic policy or procedural deficiencies exist at the state or local levels, or both.”

McMaster requested that the Department of Education or the State Board of Education circulate statewide standards and directives. He said that needs to be done to identify obscene material and prevent pornography from being in schools.

A spokesperson for the BOE told Channel 9 Thursday morning that the district failed to properly vet the book. They said it is the State BOE’s opinion that the imagery in the book is pretty explicit and not appropriate for K-12 schools.

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The governor also notified the State Law Enforcement Division to evaluate whether state laws were broken.

McMaster said that disseminating obscene materials is against the law.

“I trust you agree that pornography and obscenity have no place in our state’s public schools, much less in their libraries,” he wrote to SLED Chief Mark Keel. “Aside from being deeply disturbing and manifestly inappropriate, it is likely illegal under South Carolina law.”

The book has been met with criticism in other states, and the author Maia Kobabe has said removing and restricting queer books in libraries and school is like cutting a lifeline to queer youth.

Abramo said the explicit images in the book harm young people.

“It puts ideas in their head to be sexually active at a very young age and frankly, I just want to make sure that our school district is abiding by the law,” she said.

Fort Mill Schools said it is investigating the matter.

Statement from Fort Mill Schools:

“The district has a process in place for anyone to file a complaint regarding materials available in the district.

“The district has received a complaint regarding the book mentioned in the letter and has already begun the review process under policy KEC. The book has been removed from circulation in two high school media centers and through our online catalog while the review process is completed.

“While the letter references the Fort Mill School District, the governor is requesting a statewide investigation and is not specifically targeting the district.”

Debate over explicit memoir becomes a focus of GOP gov races

Debate over a memoir that contains explicit illustrations of sexual acts is surfacing in a handful of states where Republican governors are gearing up for reelection next year, foreshadowing a recurring theme for conservative leaders in the coming campaigns.

The book in question, Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer,” has been the focus of ire from Republican governors in various states, most recently playing a role in the Virginia governor’s race.

In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster on Wednesday released a letter — similar in nature to one days earlier by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — calling on Superintendent Molly Spearman to perform a systemic review of “inappropriate” materials in the state’s schools.

In the letter, McMaster claims to have been alerted to the issue by concerned parents, although the book in question has become a strategic GOP talking point over the course of the past year.

The illustrated memoir — a previous winner of the American Library Association’s Alex Awards, which each year recognizes “ten books written for adults that have special appeal to young adults ages 12 through 18″ — contains explicit illustrations of oral sex and masturbation.

In his letter, McMaster, a former state and federal prosecutor, also noted he had made state police aware of the book, which he referred to multiple times as “pornographic” and therefore “likely illegal under South Carolina law.”

On Monday, Abbott wrote to Texas education leaders, saying a district in the state had removed “Gender Queer” following “complaints of the book’s pornographic drawings.” Similarly, he called on education officials “to immediately develop statewide standards to prevent the presence of pornography and other obscene content in Texas public schools, including in school libraries,” citing complaints about “the book’s pornographic drawings.”

In Virginia, one of a few states with odd-year gubernatorial elections, “Gender Queer” became a focal point. After parents spoke out against it during a Fairfax County schools meeting in September, Republican Glenn Youngkin posted video from the meeting, asking, “Are you a parent who wants to have a say in your child’s education? Too bad. Terry McAuliffe says you have to sit down and shut up.”

Youngkin went on to defeat McAuliffe in last week’s balloting.

In September, the Fairfax County school system in northern Virginia voted to remove Kobabe’s book, as well as “Lawn Boy” — a novel that contains graphic descriptions of sex between men and children — from circulation pending a more detailed review.

Last month, Kobabe addressed the firestorm over the memoir, writing in an op-ed that it had also been banned in a Florida school district and challenged at schools in states including Ohio, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington.

“Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies and health,” the author wrote.

In North Carolina, Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson weathered calls to resign last month over comments he made criticizing sexual education and likening gay and transgender people to “filth,” subsequently citing the presence of “Gender Queer” in the state’s schools as alleged “indoctrination.”

Districts in other states including Pennsylvania have removed the book as well, prompting organizations such as the National Coalition Against Censorship to call for it to be restored to school shelves.

“For the students who need this book, its removal from library shelves sends a devastating message,” the organization wrote. “And for students who have no interest in this book, its presence on library shelves would not affect them at all.”

According to Ryan Brown, spokesperson for South Carolina’s Department of Education, superintendents across the state began reviewing their libraries “for appropriateness” last week after being alerted about the book’s presence in one district.

Books in school libraries and media centers, he noted, “are not funded by and do not go through the state instructional materials process” and are “selected by local school and district officials.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

(Watch the video below: McMaster wants investigation into ‘obscene material’ in schools after concerns from local parents)

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