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Friday, May 17, 2024

‘We don’t need to go there’: School board members push back on suggested book review committee

The New Hanover County school board discusses a proposal for a district-wide book review committee at its March 27 agenda review meeting.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After running a campaign pillared on parental rights and claims that “obscene” literature was being disseminated to students, board member Melissa Mason brought forth a proposal at the school board’s agenda review Monday for a district-wide committee to review books. 

“Some of y’all ran for the board with the understanding that books were going to be an issue,” board member Hugh McManus said. “I’m afraid that we’re coming to that point.”

READ MORE: 7 books to be removed so far in Pender schools, removal list originated with Durham advocacy group

This comes on the heels of Pender County’s elected leaders recently voting to pull more than three dozen books from its school shelves for review, compiled on recommendations from conservative group Pavement Education Project. Community members that advocated for those book removals also spoke out at a New Hanover School board meeting recently, asking the school board to review 73 titles. 

Mason did not reveal many details for the makeup of the committee or how the committee will determine which books to review. A request for comment went unanswered by press.

New Hanover County Schools already has a reconsideration process to review challenged books. Mason didn’t tell her fellow colleagues how the districtwide committee will replace or add to the current process.

The new board member said she would need five minutes at the next board meeting “to gauge where the board is at” on the committee. She said she had a “skeleton” for its function. 

When Superintendent Charles Foust asked Mason what district staff should bring to the discussion, Mason replied nothing was needed. 

Hugh McManus, a Democrat, pressed the board member on whether action would be taken on the item, to which Mason said there could be, much to McManus’ disdain. 

“Once you start banning books because of a personal group association, you’ve opened the door to ban anything,” McManus said. “And I just don’t think we need to go there, but obviously we’re going, so I’m getting my ten cents in here.”

McManus was referring to four of the seven-panel school board being Republican. There has been a growing trend in recent years from conservatives to ban books from school libraries. 

Board members Stephanie Kraybill, a Republican, and Stephanie Walker, a Democrat were resistant to the book review committee. 

“I’m just wondering why we’re talking about this,” Kraybill said. 

She pointed out the district already has policies in place to address book concerns. If a parent has a problem with a specific book, they are first instructed to speak to their child’s teachers; if the problem remains, the parent can submit a reconsideration form to be reviewed by the school’s media and technology advisory committee. The group issues a decision, which can be appealed to the district, then to the school board. 

In the last two years, only one book has undergone that process: “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” The book is set to be reviewed by the district after a parent appealed the school’s MTAC decision overruling the parent’s complaint. The book is part of Ashley High School’s AP English curriculum.

“This process is parent-centric,” Walker said. “If we remove any books without that process, that is banning a book. That is removing it from the general students of that school without a parent-initiated discussion over it first.” 

While vice chair Pat Bradford said she wasn’t in favor of immediate action at the next board meeting, she claimed she gets emails from parents everyday with valid concerns over “inappropriate” books.

“What we’re doing isn’t working for some of the parents,” Bradford said. 

Kraybill chimed in: “‘Some’ is the key word there.” 

For as many complaints the board has received, Kraybill said it has received just as many people asking not to ban books.

According to NHCS spokesperson Russell Clark, there were no additional parent requests for a book removal at the school, district or school board level from 2021 to present. 

However, community members still advocate for the board to review “pornographic” books in the library. 

“The people voted for new candidates that claim they’re Republicans,” Patricia Koluch said in the March 7 board meeting. “You claim you’re conservative, you ran off the books, you know what they were made of. But, yeah, silence, nothing.”

Another book-removal advocate, Gail Major, is the coordinator of NHC FACTS Task Force 2.0, a statewide right-wing organization highlighting civil and criminal laws its members claim are applicable to school literature. Major submitted a grievance in December to NHCS. At the recent school board meeting, she claimed the board was opening itself up to civil suits if it didn’t address the 73 books she submitted. 

The list includes frequently challenged reads with LBGTQ characters or people of color. Examples include “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson and “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison.

Mike Korn has crossed county lines and been vocal for months about removing “age-inappropriate” books from New Hanover and Pender school libraries. He submitted a list to Brent Springer earlier this year, in part developed from right-wing parental rights group Pavement Education Project, of 42 allegedly obscene books to review. 

The Pender County School board obliged, and last week the PCS Director of Digital Learning and Media Craig Lawson told the board seven books will be removed from shelves. The schools use a “weeding” process — which allows them to keep their collection in shape and relevant— to evaluate the literature. Port City Daily is still waiting on a response to why these books were removed by each school’s MTAC.

“Like others have been saying, we have been looking for support and communication from both boards and we have received some great communication in Pender County,” Korn told Port City Daily on Monday.

The item has been added to the agenda for the next school board meeting, to be held April 4 at 5 p.m. in the Board of Education Center. 

“You have the votes,” McManus said, “so when you say call to action, I have an idea we’re going to have at least four votes for it. I just hope people will speak up.”

Major’s 73-book grievance includes the following titles:


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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