Protesters pressure Wake Schools to remove controversial books

The Wake County school system was accused Tuesday by a group of protesters of promoting pornography and sexualizing students because of some books with sexual content in school libraries.

About 50 people protested outside the Wake County school board meeting on Tuesday holding signs such as “We are the majority” and accusing the district of handing out books they said looked like Playboy magazine.

Books such as Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” and Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy” have been criticized by some for containing sexual scenes.

“There is no excuse and no educational merit to convince children that a 10-year-old should have oral sex, and that is what these books are about,” Beatrice Setink said at the protest.

Around 50 people participated in a protest outside the Wake County School Board meeting in Cary. NC on April 5, 2022 to protest what they say is the distribution of obscene books in school libraries. T. Keung Hui

Setinik is a school board candidate and organizer of the Pavement Education Project, which organized the rally. She claimed that these types of books made children more susceptible to sexual abuse.

Protesters held up signs with a QR code for the project’s website ( listing objectionable books they say are in Wake school libraries.

But book advocates note that those targeted for dismissal frequently include people of color and the LGBTQ community.

Some people, including school librarians and students, have spoken out at school board meetings against efforts to remove the books. These speakers argue that students feel more represented when they see people like them in library books.

“Parents fighting to ban books are on the wrong side of the issue,” Robin Livingston, a parent, said at Tuesday’s school board meeting. “Some of these parents come to speak in front of the board claiming to speak on behalf of parents in Wake County, but they’re not speaking for me.”

Nationwide protests

The Wake protest comes at a time when conservative groups have launched efforts across the country to remove books they claim are obscene and pornographic from schools.

For example, a new Florida bill would require elementary schools to provide a searchable list of all books available in their libraries or used in instruction and allow parents to “report,” Governor Ron DeSantis reported. the Associated Press.

Similar legislation has been proposed in North Carolina, where GOP Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson has called for removing certain LGBTQ-themed books from schools.

In December, nine people, including Setnick, filed criminal complaints against the Wake County school system for allowing books like “Gender Queer” to be in school libraries. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman declined to press charges.

The Wake County School Board recently upheld Cary High School’s decision to allow “Lawn Boy” to remain the library. Board members said that people who focus on the book’s sex scenes ignore the main themes about overcoming adversity.

But Gil Pagan, a former school board candidate and member of the Pavement Education Project, said books like “Lawn Boy” should only be available for adults. He accused the school system of preventing parents from protecting their children from pornographic books.

Gil Pagan holds a copy of Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy” during a protest outside the Wake County School Board meeting in Cary, North Carolina, April 5, 2022. Pagan says the book should not be allowed to be read by minors. T. Keung Hui

“We ask that you remove these books now from these libraries and put them away where they should no longer be seen or touched,” Pagan said at the school board meeting.

Pagan was among the speakers who read excerpts from the books during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Tuesday’s rally, which opened with a prayer to Jesus, had a strong religious element.

“It’s time for the people of God to stand up,” said Michele Morrow, a school board candidate and one of the people who had filed a criminal complaint against the district. “It’s time for us to put ourselves on the front lines of this battle and take back our children and protect their innocence and protect their naivety.”

This story was originally published April 5, 2022 6:40 p.m.

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T. Keung Hui has been covering K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. Its primary focus is Wake County, but it also covers statewide education issues.

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