Plan to attend school board
meeting Nov. 7 at 5:30 p.m.
for books-policy discussion
Thank you to everyone who signed our letter at the October meeting of the Lexington City School Board.
Our work on this issue is not finished. Here is the draft of the proposed policy on how books and instructional materials are selected for the school libraries.
We believe the proposed policy limits professional librarians' ability to do their jobs according to the professional standards of the American Library Association.
We hope that folks will show up to the next Lexington School Board meeting to express opposition to the proposed policy and/or to ask for a delay while additional considerations are taken into account.
The board meeting is on Tuesday, Nov. 7 (ELECTION DAY!), at 5:30 pm, 300 Diamond Street, Lexington.
Zoom meeting how-tos
To attend the Nov. 7 meeting by Zoom, check the city schools website that morning and go to school board meeting page, and click on school board agendas and briefs. The first page of the brief for Nov. 7 should include a Zoom link.
If you would like to comment beforehand, send your comment to the clerk, Stephanie Burch, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zoom recording of the Oct. 3, 2023, Lexington City School Board Meeting is publicly available here.
Books removed from Lylburn-Downing library;
parents plan to attend school board meeting
Recently, a parent in the Lexington City School district sent an open letter to the school board requesting they remove a book from the Lylburn-Downing Middle School library that she finds objectionable and requesting a series of changes to how books are selected and reviewed.
You can read her letter here.
Many people in our community object strongly to the attitude toward the book displayed in the letter, as well as toward books like it—important books that deal with crucial aspects of children's identity formation, including sexual identity.
The prospect of a future in which the decisions of professional children's librarians are overruled by parents with particular religious or personal strictures is worrisome. It deserves pushback.
If you feel the same way, here are three things you can do:
1. Sign our open letter to the Lexington City School Board in support of our professional librarians.
2. Attend the Lexington School Board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7, at 5:30 pm at the school board headquarters, 300 Diamond St., next door to Lylburn Downing Middle School.
3. Join with other likeminded people to pursue other anti-book-banning activities by sending an email to Madeleine Robinson.
4. Add your voice to the discussion by writing a letter to editor of The Rockbridge Advocate and/or The News-Gazette.
Lexington City Schools statement
on removal of two LDMS books
Regarding the removal of two books from the LDMS library, Lexington City Schools' Superintendent Rebecca Walters gave this response to reporters' questions:
The two books you inquired about were part of the library collection at Lylburn Downing Middle School.
Kiss Number 8 by Colleen Venable is a young adult graphic novel that was donated to the school’s library and has since been administratively deselected from the library’s collection due to the age and developmental appropriateness of content presented in the book.
While this particular book has won several awards and is categorized as young adult fiction, upon review, our administration found that the book is rated more appropriate for students ages 14+ and grades 9-12.
It is our expectation that library books and other learning materials are appropriate for the ages and developmental levels of the students attending each school.
It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris is listed as appropriate for ages 10+ and has earned a number of awards and accolades as a health and sexual health book.
This book was also donated to the school’s library. Upon review, however, we found graphic and explicit illustrations not appropriate for our middle school library and content that does not align with our approved family life curriculum and resources. This book has been deselected from the library’s collection and is no longer available for checkout.
The middle school library includes a diverse collection of books and materials intended to appeal to a wide variety of interests, experiences, and reading levels. Serving students ages 10-14 presents its own challenges when selecting books that will appeal to and support both the middle-grade reader and those considered to be young adults (ages 12-18).
Books are primarily selected by the school’s librarian based on an evaluation of the current collection, review of award-winning books, professional book reviews and recommendations, consideration for high interest appeal for students, instructional needs, and a balance of diverse authors and experiences.
As you might imagine, we have thousands of books in our library, and not every one is read before it is added to the collection. There are times we may find that many of the selection criteria are in place for a book, but the book is not the best fit for our target audience.
In these cases, a book may not be age or grade appropriate for students. As some recent parent concerns have been raised and specific book titles brought to our attention, we have found this to be the case.
We are now reviewing and revising our book selection criteria and drafting updated policies to better reflect how books are selected and how we will handle any book challenges or removals.
Any books that have been submitted for request for reconsideration are under review until the school board can review and consider these new policies and procedures.
We plan to have informational updates on these policies and procedures to share with the board at the October 3 meeting. We will ask for the board’s feedback and suggestions for final approval at a meeting to be scheduled later in October.
I previously have not been made aware of a petition for book removal or a protest planned for the next school board meeting. We have been working around the clock on this issue.
I would like to ask that members of our school community allow our leaders and school board to work through the process. We are listening to our families and community while working to develop more clear guidelines and policies to guide our work in this area.
We ask for patience and support.
I am confident that we all share the same goal: providing books and instructional materials that are in the best interests of our students.
An example of a letter to the editor
written about LDMS book removal
Here is a letter written by 50 Ways Rockbridge board member and Washington & Lee faculty member Chris Gavaler:
If you’re going to join a call to have a book removed from a school library, you should do your homework first. That means reading the book – all 305 pages, not just the two pages someone else photocopied and distributed in a letter of complaint addressed to the community.
The library is LDMS, and the book is the YA graphic novel Kiss Number 8. It’s about a teen named Mads. She’s a Christian. Readers know she’s Christian beginning with the front flap: “Mads is pretty happy with her life. She goes to church with her family and minor league baseball games with her dad."
The church-going is shown early and multiple times after, including near the end, when her problems are at their worst. She never stops going to church. Though she’s angry with her mother early on, by the end they have grown close, and they attend church together through every phase. Church is portrayed as an unquestioned positive constant in her life.
Mads also talks to God regularly when outside of church. Early in the novel when she worries that her father might be having an affair (he’s not), Mads asks God: “I know you forgive, so whatever Dad did, I should just forgive him, right?” (45). And late in the novel when she’s anxious that she’s changing schools, she continues to address God in her thoughts: “If you feel like tossing me any advice …” (262), adding after she bumps into someone: “Advice received: Stop inner-monologuing in crowded entryways” (263).
It also doesn’t take an especially observant viewer to notice that Mads is clasping her cross pendant on the front cover. She is a Christian beginning to end.
And yet the author of the letter of complaint says that “just because my beliefs and values are traditional, does not mean they don’t deserve acceptance and protection too,” adding that she hopes “if your religious beliefs were so badly offended by my school, I would come to your aid,” before calling on “all people of faith to stand against this debasement of my religious symbol and reality.”
Does Kiss Number 8 debase Christianity? Has LDMS badly offended Christians and all people of faith by making the novel available in its library?
The accusation rises from a single page, one of the two attached to the letter of complaint. In that first church scene, Cat, one of Mads’ friends, says: “You can’t deny that he’s totally hot. I mean, look at those abs.” At first it looks like Cat means the altar boy, but Mads asks: “So, you’re telling me you go to church because you have the hots for Jesus?” Cat answers: “Noooo. I have the hots for THAT SCULPTURE of Jesus.” When Cat imagines that the statue has “an ass that could crack a walnut,” Mads responds: “Ewwwwwww.”
Mads’ response is key. Readers identify with her, the narrator, not with Cat, someone just now being introduced. Mads’ “Ewwwwww” cues the reader’s Ewwwwww. We are supposed to be grossed-out.
To make that more explicit, Cat turns out to be the villain of the story, and her gross introduction is the first step in establishing that. She is also the novel’s most sexualized character, pressuring Mads not to be “prudish” and typing the other bit of dialogue included in the letter of complaint. The writer of the letter said that she does “not give teachers license to educate my child so cheaply on gender choices, sexuality, or sex.” Setting aside that the novel was not part of any teacher’s assignment, the authors of Kiss Number 9 would agree. Cat is the novel’s foil, a model of how NOT to be.
The writer of the letter of complaint doesn’t mention that Cat is also the most anti-gay character. When Mads’ bisexuality is revealed, Cat literally vomits. She later yells: “Tell me it’s not true. […] I’ve been going around like an IDIOT for months defending you, swearing to people you ‘aren’t gay, you’re just picky.’” When Mads answers, “I’ve had a crush on you for years,” Cat scowls, stomps away, and seals an EXIT door between them with a violent kick. It’s one of the only wordless pages in the novel. They never speak again.
Cat, the villain, is anti-gay, but Kiss Number 8 is not anti-gay.
Cat, the villain, is irreligious, but Kiss Number 8 is not irreligious.
How does Mads feel about church through all of this? She says: “But I still went to church every Sunday with my Mom. If she was secretly praying for me to be ‘cured.’ She never let on. Me, I just prayed for God to tell my mom that it’s okay. Weirdly enough, church was one of the only places I FELT okay.”
An offensive debasement of religion? People of faith should read and judge for themselves.
to school board
Dear Members of the Lexington City School Board,
We, the undersigned, recognize the excellent work of Lexington City Schools' professional librarians. We support the work they do in carefully selecting books and other library materials.
We object in the strongest terms to any attempt by individuals to dictate changes to the collection based on personal or religious preferences.
Please continue to abide by the Virginia Educational Association's standards of inclusivity and intellectual freedom in school library operations.
To sign this letter, follow this link.