Alison Hair spoke directly to the Forsyth County Board of Education at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 13, for the first time in nearly 10 months.
The Forsyth parent had been banned from the board’s meetings in March after attempting to read a sexually explicit passage from a school library book out loud during a meeting, making a point that the board should work to remove similar books from the district’s media centers.
That ban has since been temporarily undone by a preliminary ruling made in a federal lawsuit. She and a group of other parents, named the Mama Bears of Forsyth, filed suit against the board and school system in July alleging its actions and public participation policy violated citizens’ First Amendment rights.
“You have silenced me and many other parents,” Hair told the board as she stepped up to the podium Tuesday night. “For that, in my opinion, you should be ashamed.”
She read from U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story’s preliminary ruling in the lawsuit, specifically pointing out the portion that states the board’s decision to ban Hair from its regular meetings -- and its policy against profane language -- was unconstitutional.
“I’m so sorry for our community that it took this and it took the taxpayers’ money to allow me to be back to tell you what all I was trying to tell you before,” Hair said. “I hope that this case restores the freedom of speech that you took away from me and that you took away from so many others. I also hope that this case encourages all parents to stand up and speak up for their rights.”Hair used her remaining three minutes with the board to continue reading the book passage that she had started at a meeting in March before Chairman Wes McCall stopped her and asked all community members to leave the room.
She told the Forsyth County News it felt freeing to be able to read the full passage after months of having to censor explicit words. For her, it is important for both the board and other parents to hear the full intensity of the sexually explicit material she said is available through local school libraries.
“I was really glad to not be gaveled into silence tonight,” Hair said.
Cindy Martin, a member of the Mama Bears and another plaintiff in the lawsuit, also read detailed explicit material in front of the board from a book she said is currently available to students at both Alliance Academy for Innovation and Denmark High School.
She said the Mama Bears did not want to name the titles of the books, however, as students might seek them out.
Martin said board members have now had nearly a year to remove hundreds of books she believes should not be available to students, but she said “all of them still remain in our libraries.”
“I’m here to make you uncomfortable so that you are compelled to do the right thing, and I will come back every month to read to you until you remove all these books,” Martin told the board.
Two other community members read from similar book passages they said are also available in some of the county’s schools while some speakers expressed worries that important context was missing from the passages shared.
The passages did not include any description of the full book, characters, themes, titles or authors.
Kathleen Kraynick, a parent to two district graduates, said the Mama Bears of Forsyth have also left out context when sharing information about the lawsuit against the school board. She noted the group has called the judge’s preliminary ruling a “win” for it and for citizens across Forsyth.
“It is not the unequivocal victory they’re claiming, nor is it a final ruling,” Kraynic said. “Context is important, and yet, as with books, they choose to ignore it.”
Kraynick also believes, along with many other community members who spoke at board meetings earlier this year, that restricting students’ access to books within school libraries is a violation of students’ First Amendment rights — the same rights Hair and Martin are fighting to protect for parents.
Leaving the meeting, Hair and Martin both said they simply want to protect kids from sexual content they believe the school district should not be providing, whether in books, movies, music or other media.“I’m just grateful to continue the conversation and continue to stand up against content that I do believe damages kids,” Martin said.