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Rural Virginia county's school board removes 22 books from high school library

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MADISON — The Madison County School Board recently removed 22 books from the high school library in enacting a policy last fall against sexually explicit content.

The banned titles included Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and Stephen King’s tale of Pennywise the clown, “It.”

Board member Christopher Wingate proposed the policy, an extension of a mandate passed down the Governor Glenn Youngkin. In April, Youngkin signed a bill requiring the Virginia Department of Education to develop model policies to ensure parents are notified if students are being taught sexually explicit materials in the classroom. The bill requires local school boards to adopt the policies based on the model policies’ minimum requirements.

The model state policy, vetted through a public comment period which ended last month, requires that parents are notified at least 30 days in advance of any instructional materials with sexually explicit content being taught in the classroom. Parents will then be able to review the materials and principals will maintain a current list of the materials on the school’s website by grade and subject.

The Madison County School Board unanimously approved its own policy in November and created separate rules dealing specifically with library materials, based on state law definition of “sexually explicit content.” Virginia Code defines it as “any description of or any picture, photograph, drawing, motion picture film, digital image or similar visual representation depicting sexual bestiality, a lewd exhibition of nudity…sexual excitement, sexual conductor sadomasochistic abuse…coprophilia, urophilia, or fetishism.”

Residents of the small rural county north of Charlottesville may now request the school board to examine content they believe is sexually explicit. The board would then make that determination and promptly remove library materials found to have explicit content and dispose of them.

The superintendent will maintain a list of the materials removed from the system and that list will be available upon request. As for the acquisition of new library materials, the titles and authors of new acquisitions will be posted to the library website for 12 months from the date of delivery. Parents can then review those materials to determine if they need to be removed.

“Parents have a right and responsibility to look at the books and let us know if they think there are issues,” Wingate said.

The board voted in December to remove specific titles from the high school library brought up during the discussion of the policy.

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These included: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky; “Tar Baby” by Toni Morrison; “The Tale of the BodyThief,” by Anne Rice; “Snow Falling on Cedars” by David Guterson; and “Empire of Thrones,” by Sarah Maas. A list of 26 books was also made available including reasons for removal requests and how often each has been checked out in the past two years. The books had been pulled from the library, save for a few already lost.

Earlier this month, nearly two dozen more books were officially removed from the Madison County High School Library.

They are: “The Handmaids Tale,” “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” “Shatter Me,” Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye,” “Sula” and “Love”; Ann Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire,” Steven King’s “It,” “Bag of Bones” and “11/22/63: A Novel” and “Furyborn.” Also on the list is “Empire of Thrones.”

Abstaining from the vote, school board member Karen Allen said she had been researching book banning and censoring, which has become an issue throughout the nation. She said had no qualms about removing anything with sexual violence, but said some of the selections are borderline.

She also said the General Assembly is looking at a bill that would allow certain books to be segregated to specific sections in the library.

“I’m in a quandary,” she said. “I do agree on some, but don’t agree on others.”

Wingate said the excerpts he had shared with school board members from some of the books in question were undoubtedly sexually explicit as defined in state law.

“There are other books I’m not crazy about, but these meet the definition,” he said. “If made into a movie they would be NC-17 or R.”

He said high school students aren’t admitted into theaters to watch such movies and thus shouldn’t be able to peruse the same content in their school library.

“It’s about trying to protect children,” he said.

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