Forsyth County Board of Education Chairman Wes McCall asked security to clear out the board room near the end of its regular meeting Tuesday night as the continued debate around the removal of media center books became increasingly heated.
Nearly 30 community members spoke during public participation at the meeting, with some advocating for the removal of certain books from Forsyth County Schools that they said contain “pornography” or “sexually explicit” material.
Others argued these books should not be removed at all, especially as some community members have targeted books containing LGBTQ themes and books dealing with race.
Several of those asking for the removal of certain books said they simply do not want children in the county to have access to explicit material in their schools. They believe books should be removed for this content regardless of whether they contain LGBTQ themes.
Many also referred back to the last BOE meeting held in February where speakers made this point and asked the board and superintendent to conduct an independent audit of media center collection.
While the system has not conducted an audit, leaders did announce at the BOE work session on Tuesday, March 8, that they are taking major steps to expedite the book challenge process and increase parental involvement in media centers for the 2022-23 school year, which begins in August.
But several community members made it clear they do not believe the district is doing enough to remove the books they have said are explicit, with some calling out specific board members they do not agree with.
Disruptions to public participation
Alison Strickland, a mother of three, pointed to comments Vice Chairwoman Kristin Morrissey made during the BOE’s last work session saying the debate has brought added attention to some of the books in question. Strickland felt Morrissey was “mocking” parents who are concerned about these books.
Another speaker, Brooke Damron, told the board that Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden should be removed from his position as superintendent.
“He has proven he is incompetent to be superintendent and has no idea what he is doing,” Damron said.
Before leaving the podium, she shouted, “Let’s go Bearden,” a reference to a political insult aimed at President Joe Biden.
At this, McCall halted the meeting to take a three-minute recess.
“I asked everybody to be respectful and show that having …. differences is OK,” McCall said. “I cannot allow that kind of comments to continue.”
Coming back from the recess, McCall asked that none of the participants call out any board member by name. Board policy states that participants must speak to the board as a whole.
But later in the meeting, another speaker, Alison Hair, broke board policy by reading an explicit excerpt from a book out loud. She did not say what book the excerpt was from.
McCall banged his gavel and asked that Hair stop reading the material, but she continued reading, yelling over McCall to have her voice heard. This led others in the crowd to yell their own comments at the board.
“Why will you not let me read this?” Hair yelled as McCall continued to bang the gavel.
“This is unacceptable,” McCall said.
After a few more moments of yelling from the crowd, McCall asked that they hold another recess and for everyone to clear the room.
Community members filed out of the board room, and after the recess was over, the remaining speakers were allowed in one at a time to speak to the board without an audience.
Continued comments on book removals
After the break, another parent, Cindy Martin, read from a book she said was available in an elementary school library without using any explicit language. The excerpt did, however, describe kids having a dialogue about “strippers.”
“I know you don’t want this in there,” Martin told the board. “I just know it.”
Martin said while she believes the board has good intentions, she agreed with the other speakers that the board needs to do more to ensure the material is taken out of schools. She said the responsibility should not be placed on parents to formally challenge each book that may be inappropriate.
Tim Coffey, who has a 13-year-old daughter in Forsyth County Schools, also said kids could still end up seeing material from these books even if they avoid checking the books out of the school media centers.
He said it could happen in the same way that his daughter still sometimes sees social media posts without having permission or access to use social media platforms.
“Kids share things,” Coffey said.
Knowing this, he said the board should take action toward removing more of these books and hold a town hall to hear from more community members.
What those opposed to book removals said
Many community members argued against the book removals at Tuesday’s meeting, with some reminding the board that libraries are meant to serve all students and families within the school district and should offer a diverse collection of authors and books.
One speaker, Casi King, said parents calling for the removal of these books “are sending a powerful message” to children in the school system and in the LGBTQ community.
“And they’re listening,” she continued. “Statistically speaking, there are some parents here that will eventually find out that their children are gay. Those children see you and they hear what you say about people just like them.”
District leaders stated earlier this year that they strive to represent student populations in book offerings, and current board policy states that FCS media centers should “provide resources that reflect the culture and experiences of all students within each school community.”
Other speakers said families can choose to simply not check out books that they do not agree with.
“A library book cannot jump off a shelf into your child’s hands,” said Angie Darnell, a mother of four in the county. “Developing trust and boundaries is part of parenting for all of us.”
Darnell also said the complaints heard from community members about the books and FCS’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program are being passed down from national organizations and parties targeting smaller communities.
She said organizations have created documentaries and social media posts that make out schools and educational programs as areas where kids are easily “indoctrinated” by far-left ideologies.
“All of these [concerns] are talking points that have been repeated here, on the internet and in national media,” Darnell said.
Some speakers also read notes they said were written by FCS educators who did not come to the meeting themselves.
One note, read by Denmark High School student Aryani Duppada, stated that these political points have turned the community against the teachers and school system that they supported not long ago.
“Suddenly, teachers, schools, Bearden and the Board of Education are the bad guys trying to indoctrinate our students and lead them wayward,” Duppada read from the letter.
For now, district leaders said they are making sure to hear concerns from both sides of this debate as they work out details for any changes to district policy coming next school year.