From masks to book bans, conservatives take on educators

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – A recent Wyoming school board meeting was again filled with opponents of mask warrants when things suddenly took a turn and a parent began reading sexually explicit passages from him aloud. a book available in school libraries.

“Parents like me didn’t know this stuff was out there,” parent Shannon Ashby told administrators at Laramie County No.1 School District in the capital.

The push to remove objectionable books from school libraries has been part of a renewed Conservative interest in public education as a political issue since the start of the pandemic. Parents who initially packed school board meetings to voice their opposition to mask warrants and other COVID-19 measures have since widened their focus to other issues they say conflict with them. conservative values, including teachings on social justice, gender, race and history.

These issues played a key role in Virginia’s gubernatorial election last month and are now poised to be in the Republicans’ spotlight in the mid-term of 2022.

“If you put pictures on the material being read, our superintendent would be in jail for trafficking child pornography,” said Darin Smith, a local lawyer and former Republican candidate for Congress whose wife sits on the school board. “I would never have known these far left leftists who control our school district if I had not gone out to express my opposition to the masking.”

The award-winning book Ashby wants out of high school and college in Cheyenne, “Monday’s Not Coming,” by Tiffany D. Jackson, is a novel about the mysterious disappearance of a black teenager. Supporters say it contains important messages on topics such as poverty, child abuse and friendship, although it includes scenes such as a boy and a girl having sex on the desk in the room. ‘a teacher.

Ashby also read allusions to sex acts in Ellen Hopkins’ “Traffick,” a novel about sexually trafficked teenagers.

Similar disputes over public school curricula and books recently arose in Virginia, where, with the help of former Vice President Mike Pence, they became a major issue in Republican Glenn Youngkin’s successful campaign for the governor post.

They’ve also been a political issue in the Carolinas and Texas, as Kansas school officials pulled nearly 30 books from the shelves after a complaint, but quickly returned them.

In Utah, the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union opened an investigation in November after a district in suburban Salt Lake City withdrew several books, including “The Bluest Eye,” by Toni Morrison , pending investigation of a parent complaint. Other books that have been the subject of complaints in schools across the city include titles with LGBTQ characters and storylines.

“There is a wave of well-funded and well-organized attacks on our schools that seek to remove library books from the shelves,” said Utah Education Association president Heidi Matthews.

Library organizations back down, pointing out that many of the books in question describe the struggles of minorities. Efforts to suppress them send a message to minority youth that their views don’t matter, said Deborah Caldwell Stone, director of the American Library Association’s office for intellectual freedom.

“It’s a terrible message to send to young people,” Stone said. “To me, it’s just astonishing that so many groups that use ‘liberty’ in their names, all of which claim to defend liberty and the individual right to exercise liberty, resort to censorship so quickly. “

Ashby is from Moms for Liberty, a conservative group that claims to challenge “short-sighted and destructive” policies in public schools.

However, Wyoming’s top education official questioned whether the book disputes were a fundamentally conservative cause.

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“To label this as a ‘conservative’ issue is a disservice to parents and their children. We should encourage parents who want to get involved in their children’s education, not to label them, ”Superintendent of Education Jillian Balow, a Republican, said in a statement on Thursday.

In September, Balow joined Republican lawmakers in Wyoming in supporting state-proposed legislation to counter the teaching of “critical race theory,” which has become a catch-all term for efforts to teach that systemic racism remains a persistent problem in the United States. efforts say they divide and are counterproductive.

Balow noted that the book disputes are not new. Since the 1970s, for example, several books by children’s and young adult author Judy Blume have been banned from schools and libraries for everything from sexuality to purposes people dislike. Another frequent target due to racist language is Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

Ashby said she first heard about the books in the Cheyenne District after listening to conservative podcasts. She then checked an online school library book database to see which books mentioned in the podcasts were in Cheyenne.

“I thought that living in Cheyenne, Wyoming, we would be safe,” said Ashby, who removed her three children from the district at the start of the school year due to the mask’s tenure.

Cheyenne School officials have not started reviewing the books Ashby opposes because no one has filed a formal complaint, Superintendent Margaret Crespo said.

Crespo said opponents of the books at school board meetings represent a small fraction of the community and not those who have written or spoken to school officials in support of it, although the district has started adjusting its policies to books, including how they are purchased and retrieved.

Opponents of the books won the sympathy of a school board member after district officials removed Ashby’s reading of sexual material from an online video over fears YouTube could suspend the district’s account.

“If we have books in our system that are not suitable for reading at our school board meeting, then maybe they are not suitable for reading in our school district,” said the administrator. Christy Klaassen to applause and cheers at a school board meeting. December 6.

The district has an opt-out policy for parents who don’t want their children to view books with adult content, but should instead consider a “opt-in” policy, said Klaassen, whose husband was the lawyer. American nominated by Donald Trump for Wyoming until January.

On the night Ashby read to the school board, only one person spoke in favor of the mask or bookkeeping mandate.

“Parents should read what their children read, and if they don’t approve of it, don’t let them read it. It doesn’t mean that they have the right to make this decision for all other families, ”said Dr. Renee Hinkle, a local obstetrician, during the heckling.

Mendee Cotton, a grandparent of seven local students, told the Cheyenne School Board that what was in the books was “pornography, pedophilia” and parents weren’t going to stop until they did. would not have left.

“The sleeping giant is awake. You affected our children and now we are angry, ”she said. “Make no mistake, this is a war.”

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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