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‘Please trust the judgment of our educators.’ What's next in the books debate in Forsyth schools
Board plans change to public participation rules after court ruling
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Catherine Nunziata speaks to the Board of Education at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 17, reminding the crowd of community members of the legal review process for challenged school library books.

Community members once again took to the podium at the Forsyth County Board of Education most recent meeting to discuss the ongoing debate around media center books.

This time, however, the majority of participants spoke out against censorship within school libraries, showing support for the hundreds of debated books in Forsyth County Schools that many past speakers have called sexually explicit or obscene.

Danielle Hartsfield, an associate professor in education at the University of North Georgia, said there is a lot of misinformation and assumptions made about the effect books have on kids about sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Hartsfield has conducted research and written several papers about children’s literature and book challenges. Through her work, she said she has found no evidence to suggest kids are harmed by reading books on these topics. She said librarians should be allowed to use their training to make informed decisions when choosing books.

“Please trust the judgment of our educators,” Hartsfield said.

Another speaker, Sawyer Kovacs, agreed that parents in Forsyth need to stop “judging educators and the board to the harshest degree” while trying to convince the school system to remove books that could serve as a life raft for some students.

Many advocating the removal of books have said they all contain sexually explicit material. But others worry that books containing LGBTQ themes or characters are also being specifically targeted.

Denmark High School senior James Liming said that encourages harassment of LGBTQ youth in schools and in the community.

“Stop giving the floor to people who only intend to incite more hate,” Liming said.

Several speakers reminded the board the unilateral removal of books at the district level goes against district policy and SB 226, a law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp last year that outlines a book challenge and removal process for books “harmful to minors.”

Those who find what they believe is sexually explicit or inappropriate content in a book, per policy, must submit a formal book challenge to the principal of the school where the book resides.

“Any people coming up here to read brief pieces of literature are doing it for political theater and for attention, and really, they’re embarrassing themselves,” said Catherine Nunziata, another speaker.

Cindy Martin and Alison Hair, leaders of the Mama Bears of Forsyth County, kept their promise to continue speaking against books they said should not be in school libraries.

Martin used most of her three minutes to read a sexually explicit passage from a book for which she did not give the title because she didn't want to encourage students to seek it out in their libraries. She did, however, say copies of the book are available at Alliance Academy, Denmark and West Forsyth high schools.

Hair told the board they need to protect students from harmful content in school libraries.

“This is not funny,” Hair said. “These are children. I honestly cannot understand for the life of me why there are six of you sitting up here, and you don’t get it.”

Chief Communications Officer Jennifer Caracciolo presented a draft of changes to the board’s public participation policy, which removes portions challenged in a lawsuit filed by the Mama Bears against board members and Forsyth County Schools last summer.

In November, a federal judge ruled that portions of the policy were unconstitutional, temporarily repealing the board’s ability to enforce certain rules during meetings. Now, the district plans to remove those same portions of the policy entirely, including those stating that:

●     Visitors at meetings should “conduct themselves in a respectful manner” so as not to disrupt the board’s business.

●     Every speaker should address the board as a whole instead of individual members.

●     Speakers should keep their remarks “civil” and avoid the use of “obscene” or “profane” language.

●     “Loud and boisterous conduct or comments” by speakers at meetings are not allowed.

The new draft of the policy is now available for public feedback on the district’s website, www.forsyth.k12.ga.us, where it will remain for the next 30 days. Caracciolo said she will present the draft again at the board’s next meeting in February for a final vote.