June 22, 2017

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Request to Ban ‘Two Boys Kissing’ from Virginia High School Library Denied

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David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing, was unanimously voted to be kept on school library shelves at the Image courtesy of Knopf.

On the evening of April 23, the school district board committee for Virginia’s Fauquier County Public Schools held a review and public hearing to consider a parent’s appeal to remove David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing (Knopf, 2013)—an LGBTQ-themed book—from the school district’s libraries. After the original complaint filed on February 7 to Fauquier County High School failed to get the title removed, the appeal was submitted before the school district’s board committee—who voted a unanimous decision to keep the book.

Two Boys Kissing is a YA novel featuring two teenage boys who set out to break the Guinness World Record for kissing and those impacted by their undertaking. Written by New York Times bestselling author David Levithan and based on real-life events,  the book was named to the 2013 National Book Award Longlist and recognized as a 2014 Stonewall Honor Book.

Fauquier school librarians Rebecca Isaac and Mary Jo Sears both say the award recognition, along with positive reviews from professional trade journals like School Library Journal, were reasons why the school offered Two Boys Kissing as an optional book choice and selected it as part of the library’s new fiction display.

“The school committee elected to keep the book because the school board approved selection policy supports a diversity of age-appropriate materials that reflect a variety of interests and viewpoints,” says Isaac to SLJ of the board’s decision. “[School] policy states that sexual content should be viewed in context of the complete literary work.”

Fauquier County Public Schools requires the form “Request for Reconsideration of Learning Resources” in recording such complaints. Jessica Wilson, a parent of a student, had filled out such a request form “after reviewing the book on Amazon.com and typing in several keywords,” after which results came up with a total of 117 references to words like “kiss” and “sex.” According to the copy of her complaint form (which SLJ has acquired), the self-verified research allowed Wilson to conclude on the form that the number of references “equate[d] to 60 percent of the book’s contents being related to kissing or sexual content.”

The complaint form also documents that Wilson read “a majority of the book at Amazon.com,” where it is currently ranked in the top 100 bestselling books under “Literature & Fiction for Teens.” However, a registered Amazon account user is only able to read the first 45 pages of the 196 page novel. In her request form, Wilson stated, “[m]y concern is in no way related to the homosexual nature of the book. The overt sexual nature of the book is my primary concern.”

In a recent letter addressed to the superintendent and the Board of Fauquier County Public Schools, the National Coalition Against Censorship’s (NCAC) Kids’ Right to Read project states the need for “decisions about school materials [to] serve all students in the school.”

NCAC communications director Michael O’Neil tells SLJ that the organization’s protest letter was sent with the message of helping the public better understand the “dangers of book banning” and is a “particularly bold affront to free expression in education.”

“Schools could be leaving themselves open to legal challenges when they ban books based on objections to content,” adds O’Neil of the constitutional implications.

In the letter, NCAC cites past Supreme Court cases shutting down such appeals with the advisory that school officials “may not remove books from library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.’”

NCAC_BoysKissing_Letter

The National Coalition Against Censorship sent a letter addressed to the Fauquier County superintendent and the Board of Fauquier County Public Schools.

“If we start removing books from shelves any time a parent objects then we’re setting the stage for literary purges,” says O’Neil.

According to Isaac, with the school having never received any prior book challenges, the collective response from the community has been positive.

“The majority of the comments from students, teachers, and parents have been in favor of supporting the book and against censorship.”

Less than two weeks before the public hearing, Fauquier County Public Schools sent out a news release of a venue change so as “to ensure adequate seating.” Taking place on a Wednesday afternoon, the “emotional” hearing drew a turnout with the room near capacity, a third of whom voiced their opinion to the committee. Comments, which included a letter from the book’s author, David Levithan, were squarely divided.

According to Karen Parkinson, Fauquier County Public Schools information coordinator, approximately 75 people were present with no significant disruptions.

“Civility reigned during the public hearing; all in attendance were respectful throughout the afternoon,” says Parkinson.

With the latest vote to retain the book in its library, Isaac states that should the parent opt to, “the complainant will have one more local appeal, directly to the school board with an additional public hearing.”

Sandy Chung is a former UN reporter on health sanitation and currently specializes in communications for architecture. Follow her on Twitter @sndychng.

 

 

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