Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

From masks to book banning, conservatives take on educators | Education

ONE The recent Wyoming school board meeting was again full of opponents of masking requirements when things took an abrupt turn and a parent began reading aloud sexually explicit passages from a book available in school libraries.

“Parents like me had no idea this stuff was here,” said the parent, Shannon Ashby, curators of Laramie County School District No. 1 in the capital.

The urge to remove obnoxious books from school libraries is part of a renewed conservative interest in public education as a political issue since the coronavirus pandemic began. Parents who first packed school board meetings to express their opposition to masking duties and other COVID-19 measures have since expanded their focus to other topics they say clash with conservative values, including doctrines about social justice, gender, race and history.

Such issues played a key role in the election of Virginia governor last month and are now close to being in the Republican spotlight in the 2022 midterm elections.

“If you add pictures to the material you read, our headmaster would be in jail for trafficking in child pornography,” said Darin Smith, a local attorney and former Republican congressional candidate whose wife sits on the school board. “I would never have met these extreme leftists who control our school district if I hadn’t expressed my opposition to the masking.”

The award-winning book pulled by Ashby from Cheyenne High School and Middle School, 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 does include scenes like a boy and a girl having sex on the teacher’s desk.

Ashby also read sexual references in Traffick by Ellen Hopkins, a novel about teenagers who are victims of sex trafficking.

In Utah, the American Civil Liberties Union opened an investigation in November after a suburb of Salt Lake City removed several books, including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, pending an investigation into a parental complaint. Other books that have been the subject of complaints in the city’s schools include titles with LGBTQ characters and storylines.

“There is a wave of well-funded, well-organized attacks in our schools aimed at removing library books from shelves,” said Heidi Matthews, president of the Utah Education Association.

Library organizations are pushing back, pointing out that many of the books in question depict minority struggles. Efforts to remove them are signaling minority youth that their views don’t matter, said Deborah Caldwell Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office of Freedom of Thought.

“It’s a terrible message to send to young people,” said Stone. “To me, it’s just amazing that so many groups that use ‘freedom’ in their name, who claim they are all for freedom and the right of individuals to exercise freedom, are so quick to resort to censorship.”

Ashby is part of Moms for Liberty, a conservative group that says it questions “myopic and destructive” policies in public schools.

Wyoming’s chief education officer, however, questioned whether the literal disputes were a fundamentally conservative cause.

“To call this ‘conservative’ is a disservice to parents and their children. We should applaud parents who want to be involved in their children’s education, not naming them, “Jillian Balow, a Republican superintendent of public education, said in a statement Thursday.

In September, Balow, along with the Wyoming Republican legislatures, endorsed proposed state legislation to counter the doctrine of “critical racial theory,” which has become an umbrella term for efforts to teach that systemic racism remains an ongoing problem in the US efforts say they are divisive and counterproductive.

Balow said disputes over books are not new. Since the 1970s, for example, several books by the children’s and youth author Judy Blume have been banned from schools and libraries, from sexuality to endings that people do not like. Mark Twain’s adventures of Huckleberry Finn is another common destination due to racist language.

Ashby said she first heard about the books in the Cheyenne neighborhood after turning on conservative podcasts. Then she checked an online book database at the school library to see which books were featured in the Cheyenne podcasts.

“I figured we’d be safe in Cheyenne, Wyoming,” said Ashby, who removed her three children from the district at the beginning of the school year because of the mask requirement.

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

Crespo said book opponents represent a small portion of the community at school council meetings, rather than those who have written or spoken to school officials in support of them, although the district has begun adjusting its policies on books, including how they are bought and be borrowed.

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

“If we have books in our system that are not suitable for our school board meeting, then they may not be suitable for our school district,” said curator Christy Klaassen to applause and cheers at a school board meeting on Dec. 6.

The district has an opt-out policy for parents who do not want their children to borrow adult books and should instead consider an “opt-in” policy, said Klaassen, whose husband ran through January Wyoming was an attorney for former President Donald Trump.

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

“Parents should read what their children read, and if they disagree, don’t let them read it. That doesn’t mean they have the right to make this decision for any other family, ”said Dr. Renee Hinkle, a local midwife, about heckling.

Mendee Cotton, a grandmother of seven local students, told Cheyenne school boards that the books said “Pornography, Pedophilia” and that parents would not stop until they were gone.

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

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