Large Crowd Hears Staples Book Removal Request

An overflow crowd filled a small Town Hall meeting room yesterday afternoon.

They were there for a public session of superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice’s ad hoc committee to review a parent’s challenge to 3 books in the Staples High library.

Tara McLaughlin — the mother of 2 Staples students and a kindergartener — sought the removal of “Gender Queer,” “This Book is Gay” and “Flamer.” Her initial complaint included other books, but she is focusing now on those 3.

The 3 challenged books.

McLaughlin — a 15-year Westport resident who moved here in large part, she said, because of the town’s excellent schools — had an hour to present her case before the special committee. It includes assistant superintendent Dr. Anthony Buono; representatives of the teachers’ and administrators’ unions; 3 Staples faculty members; a library media specialist, and 3 community members. The meeting was led by former Board of Education chair Elaine Whitney.

The Westport Public Schools’ Superintendent’s Review Committee begins work.

Referencing her own middle and high school days, when she sat in homeroom behind 2 boys who repeatedly passed explicit material back and forth, McLaughlin said her goal was to prevent other students from undergoing a similar experience.

She said, “I can control what my children see. I’m their guide, to launch them into society to the best of my ability. My job is to protect them. I expect the school system to do the same, to the same standards. I’m here for every child.”

McLaughlin — who said “It sucks to be here, but I really believe in this” — spent much of her time reading from the 3 books. She cited “vulgarity” and “pornography”; questioned the books’ educational value, and asked how the books fit with the school district’s “acceptable use” policy for written materials and electronic devices.

Tara McLaughlin

“I 100 percent support the LGBTQ+ community,” McLaughlin said. “But there are a lot of conservative Christians, conservative Jewish people and Muslims here (in Westport) who have expectations for what kids will see in the Staples library.”

McLaughlin noted that she did not object to the books being part of the Westport Library collection.

Calling one of the books “a road map to meet a pedophile,” she said that it “perpetuates stereotypes of all gay men as promiscuous.”

Each member of the committee had copies of the 3 books. They followed along, as McLaughlin read aloud a number of “vulgar” and “pornographic” passages.

Staples principal Stafford Thomas then described the school’s book selection process. He noted regional differences: In Florida and Texas, 1,400 titles are banned from school libraries. In California and New York, the numbers are 12 and 22 respectively. No books have been banned from school libraries in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas.

Referencing a Supreme Court decision, Thomas said, “Students don’t shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door.”

He added that the display that triggered McLaughlin’s complaint was a 17-year tradition at Staples. No one in the building, he said, objected to this year’s books.

(“Banned books” is a misnomer. The display actually shows the previous year’s “most challenged” books, as compiled by the American Library Association.)

Staples library media specialists Jen Cirino and Nicole Moeller provided background on how books are selected for inclusion on the shelves, and in the display.

All 3 earned very positive reviews in educational and library journals, they said, including a Nutmeg Award from the Connecticut Library Association and Connecticut Association of School Librarians.

Staples High School library media specialists Nicole Moeller (left) and Jen Cirino. (All photos/Dan Woog)

The final 20 minutes of the nearly 2-hour meeting included questions from committee members.

Staples English teacher Ann Neary asked McLaughlin how she defined “safe space.”

“I was harassed from 7th to 12th grade,” she responded. “I still carry that. Harassment would not be allowed in the workplace, and it should not be allowed in a school.”

Community member Sivan Hong wondered why McLaughlin had taken other books off her list of those she wants removed.

“I was looking for low-hanging fruit,” she said. “These 3 have to go. They’re horrendous. But the rest should go too.

“I’m doing this out of service to the children in our schools. I wish someone had done that for me.”

Buono asked why McLaughlin would not object to the 3 books being in the Westport Library.

“They’re different standards,” she replied. “There are kids as young as 13 at Staples. Any book there is an explicit endorsement of it.”

McLaughlin concluded with an analogy she’d used earlier. “Even if the rest of ‘Finding Nemo’ is great, but there’s a sex scene in the middle, we don’t show it to 1st graders. If the whole book isn’t good, don’t use it.”

The ad hoc committee will continue its work. Two more meetings will be scheduled, at which the public can speak,

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59 responses to “Large Crowd Hears Staples Book Removal Request

  1. Illogical, at best, for McLaughlin to say the books are fine for the library, where they can be opened and read, but must go from the display where the book and titles are merely displayed…let the spirits of freedom protect Westport from “DeSantisesq” thrust of Ms McLaughin’s position.

  2. “I can control what my children see. I’m their guide, to launch them into society to the best of my ability. My job is to protect them.” Guide? Yes, of course. “Control what they see”? Not for high school students, not in this day and age, probably not ever. That ship has sailed.

  3. I look at people who support conservative values. Trump. Clergy. Christian evangelical leaders. Do you think their views are good role models for children?? Many of parents who are against some books support the most lewd leaders in society. Did they suddenly get amnesia. ?

    • Stephanie Frankel

      Well said! Truth! It is all a veil for something much bigger!

      • Stephanie, I met Lois Frankel about 8 years ago at the Capital in DC. She was my representative in Congress. I think of her when I see your name.

  4. Opening the floodgates to ban one book, 3 books….. Any and Every book!!! This is dangerous! When we talk about ‘protecting’ our children, we should be talking about gun laws not books!!!

    • Eric Buchroeder

      I think the more salient question is why the “display” is necessary in the first place. Unless things have changed, the students are certainly taught how to access topics that they are interested in during the library overview training that is part of the curriculum. Back in my day you used the card catalogue. Curious about the origins of bestiality and how to integrate it into your lifestyle? Simply do a topical search and find the book that fits your interest. I’m sure the librarian would be glad to order it in if they don’t have it. But putting it on display? Why bother in the first place? I would suspect that someone is into proselytization.

      • Stephanie Frankel

        I learned from my fifth grade teacher when they taught about the Holocaust that the Germans banned and burned books that they disagreed with and did not want people to know about. One of the books was written by a Jewish psychiatrist who accepted trans.
        There is a 101 year old widow of a veteran who has a Tweet out now about how she is against book bannings and made a quilt of all the banned book covers. You should listen to her tweet. It is very enlightening. She is a huge patriot.

  5. How can you “100% support” the gay community while removing some of the few relatable materials adolescents have during the difficult coming out process?

  6. I often wonder how parents with this mindset would cope if their son or daughter reveal they are transgender?

    And yes, she is being dishonest when she says that she supports the gay community.

  7. Eric Buchroeder

    Meanwhile, in Bridgeport…..

  8. I don’t think Ms. McLaughlin understands what a “safe space” is. And by her very actions – she is creating an “unsafe space”. One of personal judgement and elimination. I’m sorry that she was harassed in school but I fail to see how it links to these books that are simply being displayed and doing zero harm to any student. Her acceptance of the LGBTQ community yet wanting to do away with books that speaks to and for the community, is hypocritical at best.

  9. “This sucks!” Tara McLaughlin said. “Not lovin’ this.” She didn’t *want* to protest the books. She didn’t *want* to be there. And yet, for an hour and 45 minutes, there we were—crowded into a room listening to a woman talk about “guide rails” while veering off them herself.

    The Activist Variously Known as Tara Lynn, Tara Tesoriero, and Tara Lynn McLaughlin Tesoriero characterized herself as a “guiding post” and a “shining light” for her kids and other kids. “My job is to protect them,” she said. “I expect the school system to do the same.”

    Even though it was “beneath my dignity,” she happily read aloud more than a half-hour of cherry-picked quotes. Sure, they may have been taken out of context, but they covered a wide range of topics: gynecological exams, menstruation, condoms, erections, orgasms, and more. Tesoriero considered it all “vulgar.” Gross. Eww.

    But was her presentation about the kids of Staples, or was it Tesoriero’s childhood revenge? Was this some sort of therapy that the public had been unwittingly roped into? Some days at school, she said, she would hide in the bathroom rather than sit behind two boys in homeroom who shared lewd photographs. Definitely a despicable incident, and Tesoriero is of course entitled to deal with it however she wants. But she needs to leave the rest of us out of it.

    She wishes someone had banned books during her education. “I want to protect people like me,” she kept insisting. Graphic novels of the pictorial variety are especially triggering for Tesoriero, who admits to reading over people’s shoulders and then getting indignant about what she sees.

    The three books in question have hardly been checked out from the Staples library, she says, because “they don’t want to read these books either.” So she wants to remove books that nobody reads anyway? Are the books dusty and forlorn, or are they a powderkeg waiting to blow?

    She suggests replacing them with three books recommended by a Staples student in an Inklings story. A member of the committee asked if Tesoriero had read *those* books. No, admitted Tesoriero, who earlier insisted that Staples librarians read all controversial books before letting them in the building. Whatever. “Let’s find some better books!” she said.

    In the end, though, this seemed to be really all about something other than the task at hand. As Tesoriero herself put it, “I’m being very brave if I do say so for myself.”

    • Thanks, Tom, for taking the time to write such a comprehensive, intelligent rebuttal to the McLaughlin sham…wish I had had the patience to be as thorough, but my anger got the better of me.

  10. Stephanie Frankel

    Christian Nationalist Facism and Moms for Liberty Esque playbooks for dismantling the public school systems, including books and classes, and replacing them with “their” accepted form of education is not acceptable in Westport or the Constitution for that matter. One person’s personal opinion or religion shall not control the education or freedom to read of another. Her child is not forced to check out or read thesebooks.

    Her concern for LGBTQ people is not genuine. She says these books make gay people look like “sluts”. Do all sexual parts of heterosexual themed books portray the reader or author as “sluts” just because they talk about sex? If she is truly for LGBTQ
    rights, maybe she should have just had a meetiing about the other LGBTQ books she mentioned being placed INTO circulation at the library! Problem solved! We do not remove books we disagree with.
    At one point she said perhaps pro white supremacist books should be placed in school libraries if these remain! What? Is she comparing LGBTQ people to white supremacists or saying they are a danger to us all like white supremacists?
    Tara clearly followed the Moms for Liberty ( a version of this is anonymous locally) playbook for challenging books in school libraries that they disagree with. These groups are funded by loads of dark money from the Koch brothers to the Heritage Foundation. There is way more to all of this than just a book challenge! Do your research! Learn! First amendment rights apply to books too.
    Many of our local clergy members are opposed to these book challenges and watering down of any history classes and facts that is happening nationwide and at an alarming rate, and is now happening here.
    What disturbs me the most is knowing that one particular school board member is close friends with the book challenger. She echoes words used by RonDeSantis. Alarm bells should be going off people!

  11. Eric Buchroeder

    As AI becomes more understood and accepted this pressing issue of existential importance will fade away (along with everything else) as nihilism fulfills its destiny as the dominant trend of civilization.

  12. I am deeply saddened by this debate as well as the current need for this debate. Many of the comments above are, at best, uncivil, and will not allow for any discourse. Of course the books should remain. Of course we should allow the folks we have hired, appointed, and elected to manage are schools and our childrens’ educations to do just that. If we don’t like the outcome, that is what elections are for.

    There is no doubt of the ascendancy of the reactionary right. Anger and devisiveness are their tools and they have worked hard over the past 30 years or so to gain the power they now wield.

    How about a debate. Put the debate team on stage with the two diverse views and let them do their thing. I expect they’ll be more civil than their parents as those are the rules of the high school debate process.

    Most of all, please be kind and open. Incivility will get us nowhere.

    • My God, David. How in the world can you deem ANY of the above comments “uncivil.” There is not one that is not buffered by thought and politeness …with the possible, possible, exception of my own. She has received more thoughtful, softly peddled comments than her danger to freedom of speech deserves

  13. Wait. There’s a “sex scene” in Finding Nemo? Is this the Onion? Is it April Fool’s Day? If not, somebody needs to alert the Christian Broadcasting Network because they said it’s a great movie with great moral values:

    • I forgot to ask:
      Does this mother know the number of children and young adults who have taken their own lives on this issue?

    • Sorry Russell. My note was meant for the general comments.
      Although, your comment reminds me of the present day backlash against children’s literature since the first nursery rhyme.

  14. Carl Addison Swanson, Wrecker, '66.

    Lord, let the kids open their minds to everything, always. The offspring live in such a bubble to begin with around here, let them follow their curiosity.

  15. As many have said, this woman clearly does not support the LGBGQ+ community. Her position and crusade to ban these books literally sickens me. I have no idea how anyone could make a correlation between her being bullied and the desire to ban these books- it’s her grasping at straws to make her case. But what angers and saddens me the most is how the LBGQ+ students and their parents within Staples and in Westport community, must feel about her harmful words, etc. The School Board should not give her this platform to spew her own narrow-minded opinions. Btw- when is the next meeting? I’d love to attend. Please Dan, post this information when available.

  16. Tara Mc Laughlin: “We’re raising our kids with certain values consistent with our religion,” McLaughlin said of her family. “That’s my job, to protect them. I expect the schools to do the same.” This is the whole quote. This clearly indicates that “her religion” is not accepting of the LBGQ community! Basically, she’s trying to put her own religious beliefs ahead of others. If that’s the case she should move her children to a religious school that fits her needs.
    McLaughlin further said she believes some children feel harassed and stressed when classmates read such books in their presence, or when they see displays like the one in the Staples library. Really??!! Would a gay child feel harassed or stressed when a classmate reads a heterosexual novel?? I think this generation of kids are much more in turn and accepting than McLaughlin is willing to admit. This is a slippery slope. It isn’t hard to worry that- in her view- any book that doesn’t align with her religious beliefs would make others stressed and harassed, including books regarding slavery and the holocaust.

  17. Does anyone believe that kids will see all this and more online, on TV or in other books. Many of the books in the display had been in the library for years and nobody ever took them out. This ridiculous charade has just made those books forbidden fruit and if your kids didn’t notice them before they certainly will; now. Instead of controlling what you think your kids are seeing maybe you should talk to them about it. Great job!

  18. The only thing that bothers me about this important post and discussion is having photos attached.
    Doesn’t seem necessary. Only inflammatory.

  19. Liberals are defined as people willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas, individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

    Well…here it is! Opposition to some yes, but without opposition what would we have? You need liberals because the righting to do is to come up with something new. We need conservatives
    Because the right thing to do is something we have always done, revert to past/history.

    This political (obviously) dialogue should be welcomed.

    Could the books be there and not have graphic images? Yes. Is it pornographic? That is up to the individual. However:

    18 U.S.C. § 2252(a)(1) describes the federal crime to knowingly transport or ship child pornography using any means of interstate or foreign commerce, or in affecting commerce by any means, which includes a computer or mail, any visual depiction, if:

    (A) The producing of visual depictions involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; and
    (B) The visual depiction is of such conduct

    The graphic images I can understand. However, everyone has a cell phone and laptop and can obtain any type of pornography online. As a parent, WE control our home. In school, there should be a healthy conversation, without attacking people, libel, hyperbole, and welcoming concerns!

    I applaud Tara for speaking up, and everyone should even if you do not agree with her or others.

    What happen to civility?

    • Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 2252 makes it a federal offense to possess, distribute, or transport child pornography – which is defined any visual imagery that depicts children under 18 years old in sexual situations for the purpose of sexual stimulation.

      There’s a concern, we may not agree, but need to hear and listen to all!

      Love this blog and what Mr. Woog has brought to the community.

    • Stephanie Frankel

      I do not see her as brave at all. The brave ones are the LGBTQ kids she targeted and had no voice or Democracy in all of what she preached.

      • Any opposition on civil venue like what took place in town hall is when you have people as yourself making it personal and going after her. That is democracy what she is doing. You may not agree, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

        • Stephanie Frankel

          Personal? How is it personal? I do not know Tara at all. I have never met her in my life. I was there as a resident, citizen, and mom. My own facts? I was at the meeting.

          Can you please enlighten me on any facts that I got wrong? I never want ro spread misinformation or disinformation. i am vehemently against that. So please tell me what I made up as fact.

        • Stephanie Frankel

          Democracy would be the children having a say and a voice at the meetings.

  20. Mr. Bonham, there is nothing political around this dialogue.
    Your code citations are irrelevant to the subject of this post.

    • Actually, no, they are not irrelevant when particular books have been censored, pulled, or removed from shelves due to the sensitive nature and imagery in the books themselves.

      Of course it’s political, positive civil discourse where different views were aired took place. On the other hand, you fail to be respectful and understanding. While I do not agree, I definitely disagree with your snide and snarky rants on this blog, suddenly, in the last two weeks.

      There is no Krista Powers in Westport.

      • True. Not for a long time. I now live on Beechey Island, but we’re thinking of retiring up on Devon.

  21. Robert Harrington

    Not much civility on this thread…
    Hate have no home here?

  22. Robert Harrington

    Hate has no home here?

  23. This is unbelievable. How does this absurd “complaint” warrant any more than a polite ” thank you for your concern” or at most an informal meeting with anyone on the Board willing to take it? What exactly is the basis for convening a hearing on it?

  24. Gosh. When did so many Westporters become so overly sensitive?
    Maybe when they stopped reading books and only looked at the covers? Sorry if you feel embarrassed.

  25. How about meeting in the middle? How about kind, thoughtful discussion about the topic? Stop the attacks. We all have a right to a voice. Many Americans are sick of this fighting of the right and left. I don’t agree with the mom’s approach personally, too inflammatory and emotional, but I agree that she has a right to her voice. How about the school library make these books available to a certain age and up and section a part of the library off to those of a certain age and above, and then the younger folks get access to the literature with parental permission only. Like the 13 year olds. Sounds like plenty of Westport parents would allow access anyways. That way, the parents don’t feel left out of the decisions of what their child is exposed to. Now you might say, a young 12 year old is scared to tell their parents about their curiosity. Make sure the educators are in tune and the child can go to that teacher or principal and have them discuss the child’s desire to explore the topic with the parents. I think educators have overstepped if they allow the children to make these kinds of decisions all on their own. Work together! Stop dividing. And 16 and up! That age is old enough to make many decisions on their own and we can just try to help support and guide as we can.

    Back in the day at Saugatuck Elementary on Bridge Street, the girls and boys got divided. Girls went to the small library above the gym and the boys went with the male gym teacher and we got schooled about some biology of our bodies, etc. The librarian held the sessions for the girls! I’m sure more would be said now but in 3rd grade, I didn’t want to know the major details about how people do it. Sorry. Maybe some did. Work with each child at home and maybe work with the school for these types of subjects.

    • Stephanie Frankel

      Can you please quote any attacks that you see on this thread?
      I am trying to learn here.
      Thank you!

  26. Stephanie Frankel

    These books are already vetted for appropriate age groups by the school library media specialits.
    I agree, be kind! I do not see anyone being unkind, rude, uncivl, hateful, or attacking on this thread. I do not even see divisiveness. I see some disagreement, but not unkindly behavior.

    • Edward Bonham

      You’re not kind. You attack from behind a keyboard those who share an opposing view rather than being the liberal you call yourself, willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas, individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise. Now please, before you shutdown commenting on THIS thread where you attacked republicans, think twice before you speak and practice what you preach.

      Hate has no home here. ☮️

  27. Carl Addison Swanson, Wrecker, '66.

    This town and its outspoken residents have been banging heads amongst each other since the Nike site “debate” in the 1950’s. Be thankful we get so many comments on the Professor’s blog. When the debate goes silent is when to find shelter.

  28. Let’s hope we don’t get to this point.

  29. My last thought:
    At a University bookstore today there was a large collection of books displayed.
    Books “challenged, seized, banned, or burned “, all with reasons why.

    One caught my eye: Beatrix Potter’s “The Complete Tales of Peter Rabbit”.
    Her work was banned in 1980’s London schools because —
    “It was concerned only with middle class rabbits”.

    There you go.

  30. Tara, thank you for fighting to protect our Westport children & youth. I wish our school superintendent and administrators cared about protecting our children.

    • Stephanie Frankel

      What do you mean by this?
      You think our superintendent wanta to harm kids? You think administrators want to harm kids?
      Wow! Were you at the follow- up meeting today? I hope you were. I was there!
      Where was Tara? Weird she did not show! It was a great meeting. I loved hearing such intelligent comments about these books!

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