Banned Books Controversy Reaches Board Of Ed

Last night, a controversy brewing on social media bubbled over to the Board of Education.

In the meeting’s public session, several residents spoke about a “banned books” display at the Staples High School library. The event — held for 17 years, and sponsored by the American Library Association — includes the 10 most challenged books from the previous year.

Three of the books addressed LGBTQ issues. They are “Gender Queer,” “Lawn Boy” and “This Book is Gay.” All have been in the Staples library for 3-5 years. Some or all of them are also in the school libraries of neighboring towns, and districts similar to Staples elsewhere in Connecticut and Westchester County.

Seven speakers last night spoke vehemently against the display. They called the books “pornographic” and “inappropriate for children.”

Some of the speakers said that Westport schools are “grooming” and “sexualizing” students.

One woman charged Staples with “indoctrinating” students into Marxism. “You obviously want to dismantle the nuclear family,” she said.

Two speakers voiced approval of the banned books display. “It is important for disparate views to be heard” in school, one said.

The controversy was not on the Board’s agenda. A motion to add it for discussion last night was defeated.

Last week, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice sent a long letter to the Board of Education. He explained relevant Westport Public Schools policies; the materials selection process; the results of his investigation into “Banned Book Week,”and the process by which residents can challenge materials.

Click here to see Scarice’s full letter.



44 responses to “Banned Books Controversy Reaches Board Of Ed

  1. Bravo, Scarice, bravo Board of Ed.

    Grooming! Remember that seven speakers don’t represent the broader views of the Westport population.

  2. Bobbi Essagof

    Just when you think it could never happen here!

  3. Susan Iseman

    Looks like these folks are worried about their children. It makes me wonder if their kids have access to social media, where they can view all kinds of “inappropriate” stuff. Perhaps a red state would be a more suitable place for these folks to live, where all manner of rights and freedoms are being challenged…..

  4. Christy Colasurdo

    I’m grateful to live an a part of the country where free speech still beats fear mongering. Kudos to our educational leaders for allowing provocative literature and for not pandering to those seeking to whip up controversy. The books on display may not be to everyone’s taste, and that’s fine, but censorship and banning books is never the right answer.

  5. Is anyone sure if these people who got up to speak were even Westport residents, with or without school-aged children, or were they outside agitators? Either way, as Christy said above — read something, or don’t read it, but no one wins when books, art, or film is censored.

  6. Dick Lowenstein

    “Marxism”. Now let’s ask ourselves from where on the political spectrum do charges of Marxism generally come?

  7. stephanie bass

    Has someone explained to these concerned parents that sexual identity is inborn, preprogrammed like showing up left or right handed; like smart or not so smart; like dyslexia or ADD or bi-polar; short, tall, blue eyes, etc.

    Learned behaviors include contempt for proven scientific information; racism; fear of your children being influenced to change their sexual identity when being exposed to book aim at explaining different sexual orientations – the kind of books the can prevent misery and suicides in people who think they are alone e in the world.

    • Nancy Pearlstone Anderson

      I grew up in Westport and experienced this rhetoric living in Florida for TOO many years. These people are frightened and don’t feel safe here. I understand as those were among my many feelings while living Florida. I agree with Susan that they may be more comfortable in a red state with like minded people.

      I am grateful to be home in Westport enjoying the liberties and inclusiveness that we are afforded here.

  8. Dr Frank E Accardi

    Catcher in the Rye ,Of Mice and Men, Lady Chatterly’s Lover ,The Color Purple , Animal Farm.& Farewells to Arms among dozens of other Classic Novels.
    All banned somewhere.
    Need anyone say more?

  9. I am appalled by these demands ! What does sexual identity have to do with Marxism? It is true that the doctrines of Marx and Engel are in favor of homosexuality, But in the end it is separate from their political views as a whole and to imply that we practice them is ludicrous!

  10. Thomas W Jendrock

    Disgraceful that in a supposedly open-minded community like Westport there are numerous individuals who vocally advocate banning books which are not consistent with their biased views!
    This is a core viewpoint of Fascism, from Hitler and Mussolini to Trump. Do not be silent or intimidated by those who seek to take away your rights and the rights of everyone who disagrees with them! “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” Facsism breeds on silence.

  11. John D McCarthy

    The Westport Journal gives some more detail on the BOD meeting, good supplemental material on this issue:

  12. Tara Tesoriero

    Sorry, but some commenters here are misinformed. These books are neither classics nor “literature.” I will send a few examples to Dan that I think he should publish. Let’s see if he does.

  13. Tara Tesoriero

    Is this an really open-minded community where our democrat majority Board of Ed actually voted to ban the board’s discussion of banned books? Hmmmmmm. Think about that…

    Thank you to the republicans who at least tried to have an open discussion on banned books. Unfortunately, the democrats prevailed in their agenda to silence conversation, stifling any open-minded conversation about this as an agenda item. If this is no big deal like they want everyone to believe, then why are they so quick to squash discussion? What are they afraid of?

    • Russell Gontar

      Your assertion that the “board of Ed actually voted to ban the the board’s discussion of banned books” is incorrect. The article states that there was a “meeting public session” where the public had the opportunity to speak and that “the controversy was not on the Board’s agenda. A motion to add it for discussion last night was defeated.” There was no vote to “ban discussion”.

      Why would you deliberately misrepresent what occurred and what was reported? Hmmmmm. That about that.

      • Robert Harrington (Board of Education Member)

        I sit on the Board of Education and we tried to add this to the agenda last week as part of the normal process. The Chair decided to veto this. Usually 2-3 requests from Board Members would be sufficient. We then tried again to have a discussion about the District’s policy in front of the community and in public. This was voted down. The public were allowed to speak for 2 mins each. Board of Education members were not. The only way for Board members to add to the debate was to go against the process and speak when we were not allowed to. We should have nothing to hide about having this debate in public.

        The fact that we had a totally inappropriate Executive Session behind closed doors and away from the public is plainly wrong in my view.

        I want to be very clear – we were NOT advised by attorney that we could not have this discussion in public.

        For the record – these books were not banned in Westport and several have been in our school library for years. However the school explicitly promoted these in a very provocative way. That offends some parents when the content includes promotion of sex apps, contains content with adult/minor sexual interactions and graphics of oral sex.

        I have disagreed plenty of times with a number of people that stood up and raised concern about the displays last night. However to simply tell them to move away to red states is hardly the inclusive tone we all want to promote in this town.

        We should engage in public debate and listen to multiple views in public meetings.

        • Russell Gontar

          Thank you for your comments and clarifications. From your comments, it appears that:

          1. The Chair acted within his authority, but you disagreed with his decision. Fair enough.
          2. The attempt to extend the public discussion was voted down. That’s how democracy works, but again, you disagreed with the outcome. Fair enough.
          3. Regarding the executive session, I’ll assume the board voted to go into executive session, which again, you disagreed with.

          However, you have ramped up the rhetoric by asserting the school “explicitly promoted” the books in “a very provocative way”, despite the fact that Superintendent Scarice detailed the ways the books were selected, vetted and displayed, which is consistent with the way the school system has been doing so for many years.

          These inflammatory characterizations are unfortunate, and I understand that you and others may feel that way, but they add nothing to to the public discussion. There are many aspects of human history that aren’t pretty and may make some some people uncomfortable, including all dimensions of human sexuality, but that’s the price we pay for living in a society that values freedom of speech, thought and expression. When you start banning books, you’re only a short hop, skip and jump away from burning them.

  14. These people are sucking the air out of democracy. I wonder how much longer we can keep tolerating such intolerance.

    • Rasmussen Reports is a discredited right-wing pollster famous for extracting opinions from elderly white people who scurry to answer their land lines.

      • John Hartwell

        Rasmussen is definitely more likely to report conservative results, but their methodology is a bit more robust than implied here. They call landlines with a pre-taped set of questions, so no live operators, then they supplement this with an online survey tool, and they try to balance their responses to fit larger demographic patterns.

        So it’s not simply “elderly white people who scurry to answer their land lines”. If interested you can read more here

    • Stephanie Frankel

      I think that polling is based on right wing Trump supporters. When I was in high school, Republicans wanted to ban rap. It is facism and a dictatorship that leans towards banning things ( books, topics, religions, womens rights, voting ect..). Do you like freedom? Do you only like freedom for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to own a gun and carry it around a grocery store or school? Personally, as a parent and retired teacher, I am more afraid of a kid with an AR-15 shooting up a school, than a school that has a book in its high school library that contains sexual content.

  15. No one is for banning books – pornography should be removed from the high school. Pornography is not the type of book that belongs in a high school library.

    • Russell Gontar

      No one is for banning books, yet “pornography” should be removed. Say what?

      Who gets to decide what is pornography and who gets to decide what gets removed? That’s the problem.

  16. I don’t think a viable sample of humans answers a land line and engages with a recording—“supplemented,” “balanced,” or otherwise. But I’m just an elderly white guy with a land line.

  17. joshua stein

    Quick question… are there web filters on the school computers? Can one search for porn, drugs, guns, etc? Or is that blocked?

  18. Stephanie Bass

    Mr. Harrington: you sound like the popular kids didn’t let you sit at their table.

    I miss school and being able to act 12 and not getting into trouble. ( in truth, once i hit 70, i lost mist if my filters and get to be 12 lots of times.)

  19. Lauren MacNeill

    Tara you are misrepresenting what happened last night and you do not speak for the majority of parents. Robert, unfortunately this time you are fanning the flames rather than opening up dialog on both sides. What actually was helpful was to hear the explanation from Neil about why this wouldn’t be on the agenda last night. There is a process and its not to say that this discussion won’t happen in the future. The board wasn’t voting on the book display, they were voting on process. The board should not be at the whim of an angry gang of 10 people who are often unhinged with accusations that the board and our administration are pedophiles, indoctrinating, sexualizing our children, It’s offensive. If you want to have a real conversation about content that should be allowed in the library go for it. I wonder if they’ll also want to remove any books that have violence or guns with the similar accusation that we are encouraging and promoting murders. It’s extremely telling that these books have BEEN in the library. But now the board and administration is promoting sexualization. Sounds like a sound bite.

    • WELL SAID!!! I am so proud of Dr. Scarice and our entire school system. I have lived here for 50years, and I remember Dr. Caulkins (sp?) was our principal. He was so ahead of his time. It’s a school system that is revered nationally – so much to be proud of!!

  20. Tara Tesoriero

    Hi Lauren-

    The misrepresentation that has occurred comes from the board member who asserted that the discussion could not happen as a matter of “fact” because of the pending review process. This claim has no basis and as Robert Harrington has commented multiple times, the Board has not received any legal advice along these lines. The Board member who feels a discussion would be “prejudicial” to the process is entitled to feel that way, but he is misleading the community by saying a discussion cannot occur for legal reasons.

    The objections to this content are broad-based and cross party lines. Schools need to have SOME standards when it comes to sexually explicit content and many parents feel we are now over the line with graphic depictions of children engaging in sex (which under federal law meets the standard of child pornography). You and others attempt to marginalize the concerns of many parents by painting this as just coming from a small group. Obviously a bare minority of board members felt the level of concern in the community was sufficient to initiate a conversation on this topic, which has broad implications beyond the book display itself.

    You are free to disagree that there is an effort underway in recent years to inject a lot of aggressive sexual content into public education. You can gaslight all you want. We see the surveys, we see the packets, we see the books on display. While you may genuinely love and appreciate all of this, others who feel there should be more emphasis on learning and less emphasis on sexuality have a right to make their perspective known. I think you are deceiving yourself as to where the majority of parents land, even in Westport.

    Let me ask you some questions: Is there nothing of a sexual nature that should be excluded from the Staples library? Is there no content imaginable that would cross the line of what is suitable and appropriate? I genuinely want to know your feeling- please answer directly.

    • Lauren MacNeill

      Tara, That’s exactly my point. Of course there are materials that should be excluded from a high school library – and lets make it clear this is high school, not middle and elementary. I would not speculate what percentage of the parents would find any one book to be objectionable. There is a process , a quite well defined one, to object to these materials and to ask for a review.

      What I do believe is a small minority is the group of parents including yourself who are making it about sexuality, pornography, indoctrination, marxism, fascism and on and on. It’s interesting also that a number of the books of concern are same sex. These books have been in the library for years. There have been discussions of banned books for years. Is it the case that these books were opened to the more graphic pages? This is hysteria rather than constructive concern. I do not believe that most parents would agree with your assertion that there is an “effort underway in recent years to inject a lot of aggressive sexual content into public education”

      By all means have a discussion about what should and should not be included in schools – its pretty complex as others here have said much more eloquently.

      I think that both Neil’s explanation and Mr. Scarice’s letter explained when would be an appropriate time for the board to have a discussion on this. I didn’t hear them say it could not legally happen. What if I got 8 of my friends to write letters and come speak at the meeting to discuss the books that contain DRUGS or GUNS at school. Should the board then drop their other agenda items because of the concerns ? There is a process. Please lets stop the hysteria and have constructive dialogue.

      • Robert Harrington

        Lauren – I have so much respect for you and strongly value your opinion. I am not prepared to write off a certain section of the Westport population. Many people have engaged in coffee shop meetings, emails, public meetings – without using anonymity. They are our neighbors. It’s far bigger on this issue than 10 people.

        I have spoken to numerous people this week that are afraid to discuss this in public because of the tyranny of the majority.

        We didn’t need to drop any items on the agenda. We even had a agenda item on whether we should change the days of our meeting! This is a red herring. There was time. No other issues would had suffered.

        When the Democrats are ready to have a public discussion on this issue I look forward to that day…

        I think you have seen me call out people in my party and people hiding behind anonymity on plenty of occasion. I think having the chair and Neil’s debate in private but at the same time displaying time silence on the floor of our BOE is simply wrong.

        • Lauren MacNeill

          Robert, I understand you don’t want to be dismissive of anyone bringing forward a concern. But there is a big difference between 1) Parents who may be concerned about media content in our school library and want to pursue discussions about how content is selected or pursue complaints of current content and 2) Parents that are quite literally accusing our teachers and administration of sexually aggressive behavior, pedophilia, grooming, etc. I would expect the board to support any rational concerns and after allowing the process to work have any further discussion necessary in a public forum. I thank you for your continued support of those in group 1 but I see no need for you or other board members to be supportive of group 2 who are making wild accusations and manufacturing an urgent crisis that doesn’t exist. Again, these books have been there for years, the displays have been there for years. Let’s let the process work.

  21. These folks who have complaints just need to follow the PROCESS!!!!!

  22. I also posted this on the later link. Here is a great study published by PEN about the dramatically escalating attempts to ban books from schools. It is both interesting and frightening.

    @Tracy, these people aren’t interested in process. They want the process to take a back seat to their righteous indignation. They define tolerance as our willingness to accept their intolerance. They claim on their website to be against censorship, but, of course, they want us to accept a transphobic tome like “Irreversible Damage” while they consider anything that addresses anything to be outside of their personal take on gender to be obscene. (Remember the fuss they made about the trans fashion show in Town a couple of months ago? And that wasn’t in a public school.) This is purely about forcing an ideology upon everyone else.

    (And they really need to look closer at the reasonably clear definition of “obscenity” according to our courts.) If they really think that there is “child pornography” in the school library, they should call the police! But that isn’t what this is about.

    • Stephanie Frankel

      What an EXCELLENT article! I am going to share this far and wide.
      Thank you!

  23. Nancy Anderson

    I think that the people who are upset with these books are missing the point. This is NOT pornography. Yes they are admittedly graphic, but to a young, gay high schooler they are valued.
    I would bet that almost every kids at Staples knows this is how gay adolescents /men please each other. The parents may be shocked but the kids are not.
    This is out of your norm but it is not PORNOGRAPHY. What was displayed and written ( in what Tara sent ) validates feelings and educates in a language that is relatable to this group. It is important to them but not you.
    Everyone has sex …..why is that so upsetting to these people ? Adolescents are having all kinds of sex whether you want to face that reality or not. Yes, oral sex and anal sex. These kids can pull up any graphic or material they want on a phone, computer etc. shall we ban them also?????
    Why not find a topic to fight for that will benefit our children? This has nothing to do with the kids and everything to do with the parents.

    • Get your facts straight graphic depictions are child pornography and it is shameful that the high school have these illegal books in the library. Are you ashamed to call it pornography? Read up on federal and state pornography laws. These laws are to protect children not adults.

  24. Nancy Anderson

    Sex isn’t shameful or porn Bari. Get your facts straight.

    • No sex is not shameful but pornography depiction is against the law for under 18 – get your facts straight.

      • Stephanie Frankel

        If dads have Playboys in their house and have children under the age of 18, should they be charged with pornography? How many little boys do you remember looking at their father’s Playboy magazines? Under the age of 18? If you did not hide them well, perhaps one must be charged with exposing children to porn.
        One last thing, I find it astounding some parents are more concerned about gay sex in books than school shootings and kids owning guns. It is frightening to me to see what scares some people.

  25. Playboy did not have apps for young boys to hook-up with men. Also did not show graphics that is in the books in the SHS Library – get your facts straight. I never considered Playboy pornography – but the books in the school library certainly are.