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After two-month review, Fairfax schools reinstate 2 books that prompted parent complaints

Stacy Langton, a parent in the Fairfax County school system,  questioned the school board at a public meeting Thursday about the books' availability in high school libraries.
Stacy Langton, a parent in the Fairfax County school system, questioned the school board at a public meeting Thursday about the books' availability in high school libraries.
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After a two-month review process, Fairfax County Public Schools says two books that prompted parent complaints will be reinstated in high school libraries.

The books, “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, had been temporarily pulled from FCPS libraries after parent complaints and a formal challenge in September.

RELATED: Fairfax schools pulls two LGBTQ+ books with graphic sex from high school libraries

Some parents said the books contained graphic sexual content inappropriate for students.

Fairfax County Public Schools say two committees made up of school administrators, librarians, parents, and students "unanimously recommended that the books should remain available" and said they're appropriate for high school readers.

"There are many students who struggle to find stories and characters they can relate to, that mirror their own personal journeys," said Noel Klimenko, Assistant Superintendent of FCPS' Instructional Services Department, who made the final decision to reinstate both books. "I think our libraries are places of choice and information, both academic and interest, and I think it's really important we have a wide variety of books to serve our whole community."

7News recently spoke to Stacy Langton, one of the Fairfax parents who raised concerns about the two books during an FCPS school board meeting in September.

READ MORE | 'There's pornography in the library': Fairfax mom concerned over graphic books in schools

We checked back in with Langton on Tuesday, to get her reaction to the FCPS decision to reinstate the two books.

"I mean, obviously I'm angry, but I was also shocked. But at the same time, I feel like I kind of don't know why I'm shocked because FCPS has never done the right thing in handling this from the beginning," said Langton.

Langton also reiterated her concerns about the content of the two books.

"There's no two ways to slice this, it is unambiguously pornographic," she said.

Since she filed a formal challenge to the books, Langton will have the opportunity to appeal the school's district's decision to reinstate them, and says she plans to do just that.

"I would absolutely do that. I intend to that that. Because this shouldn't have happened," said Langton.

FCPS said its decision to reinstate the books reaffirms the school district's "ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters".

Once a formal challenge is filed, FCPS policy calls for a committee review of the books in question. Klimenko said two committees spent several weeks reading and reviewing the two books.

"Then the committee does a blind vote, and in this case they unanimously decided the books should remain on the shelves," said Klimenko. "So their processes and findings are written and sent to me as the assistant superintendent of instruction, and I take those into consideration, actually I take those into strong consideration."

As that review was happening, FCPS also heard from students like 17-year-old Aaryan Rawal, who co-founded a student group called 'The Pride Liberation Project'.

"We're a coalition of of queer students who work to uplift the LGBTQIA+ community in FCPS," said Rawal. "And when we saw that these books were being attacked, we decided to mobilize and take action."

Student members of 'The Pride Liberation Project' wrote a letter to FCPS leadership and school board members, asking them to "reject calls to remove Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer and Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy from FCPS libraries".

Rawal said more than 400 students signed onto that letter, and he was relieved to hear Tuesday's update that the books would be returning to library shelves.

"To see FCPS make the correct call to keep these books in our schools is just incredibly empowering and affirming," he said.

In a statement, FCPS said reviews of both books concluded that the books were "valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journeys".

The FCPS statement continued:

After deliberate and lengthy discussions on the potential merits and concerns of the book as a literary work, and the potential merits and concerns associated with retaining or removing access to the book from students using school libraries, the committees unanimously recommended that the books should remain available.

The committee noted the following merits of “Lawn Boy,” which appears in the catalogue of 11 FCPS high schools:

  • The book is an accessible examination of race, class, socio-economic struggle, and sexual identity. It paints a portrait of the substantial obstacles faced by those who are marginalized by society. It is an uplifting and humanizing depiction of navigating through setbacks with resiliency to reach goals and will resonate with students.
  • The themes of this book are affirming for students who will recognize that they are not alone as they experience similar systemic challenges and societal prejudices.
  • The book has literary value as a narrative representing the perspective of a significant portion of students in Fairfax County Public Schools with a variety of backgrounds.
  • There is no pedophilia present in the book.

The committee noted the following merits of “Gender Queer,” which appears in the catalogue of seven high schools:

  • The book is a well-written, scientifically based narrative of one person’s journey with gender identity that contains information and perspective that is not widely represented. This depiction includes the difficulties nonbinary and asexual individuals may face. The book has literary value in its structure, voice, and themes and has won literary awards.
  • Students with a related experience will feel affirmed and others can gain understanding and empathy.
  • The resources referenced in the book provide access to additional, reliable information.
  • The book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.

The two committee reports are available to read:

Klimenko said the two books will be back in high school libraries after the Thanksgiving holiday.

According to FCPS, the reinstatement means that 'Lawn Boy' will appear in the catalogue of 11 FCPS high school libraries and 'Gender Queer' will appear in the catalogue of seven FCPS high school libraries.

"And those are the same schools where the books were on the shelves prior to the challenge," said Klimenko.

She said that does include a few secondary schools, which serve students in grades seven through 12.

That's something that Langton pointed to in speaking out about the content of the two books, saying it's not just high school students who would have access to the books. 7News asked Klimenko to respond to that concern.

"I think what I would say to parents is, parents are the most important adults to their children. Each day they teach them their values, their beliefs," she said. "So we would encourage families to talk to their kids about the books they're reading, the books they're checking out, and make that a family affair."

You can read the full statement from Fairfax County Public Schools here.

"I would have said all these same things had the pornography been hetero in nature, so it's not about trying to attack the gay community. It's pornography and pedophilia, and it shouldn't be in the libraries," said Langton, who recently wrote an op-ed stating that she is "not anti-gay" and is "the adult child of a gay parent".

FCPS said the committee review of both books found no pedophilia present in the books.

"There is no pedophilia in either of these books. I have read them front to back, and the committee as well came with the finding that there's no pedophilia," said Klimenko. "Certainly when things are taken out of context, when you haven't read the whole book, when you're only reading some of the words, certainly things can be misconstrued. And I think a lot of times that's what happens with book challenges."

The school district said it has a specific process for choosing books to be included in school libraries. For a book to be added to the library collection, "two positive reviews from professionally recognized library journals, such as Booklist, School Library Journal, and others, are required".

The school district also has a process through which books can be challenged, by "any person residing in Fairfax County or Fairfax City, any parent or guardian of a child who attends Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), or any person working for the school system."

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FCPS said parents can visit their student’s school library by making an appointment ahead of time and following visitor protocols, with pre-arranged visits to school libraries possible before or after the instructional school day.

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