Parents speak out about school library books
Updated: Jun 14
Below is a February 11, 2020, article in the Grand Haven Tribune that references our parish.
Individuals addressed the content of books available to students in the Grand Haven school district during a meeting this week of its Board of Education.
Last month, a parent raised concerns about the availability of sexually explicit books available to students in the district’s libraries. On Monday night, additional parents and community members shared their thoughts on the topic during the meeting at Lakeshore Middle School.
Superintendent Andy Ingall said the school district encourages parents to have conversations about reading material and discussing books with their children, and they understand parents want to have hands-on involvement in what their children read. Ingall said they identified options for parents: discuss book collections with school librarians; request their child’s Destiny Quest log-in information so they can see what books their child checks out; and opt to receive a weekly digest of what their child has checked out.
Parents can also meet with their school’s librarian to place restrictions on titles or genres for their child’s account, or they can choose to not have their child check out books and not use the school library, Ingall said.
One woman thanked the board for addressing the topic of books available to children. The woman said she read portions of the books available at White Pines Intermediate School and Lakeshore Middle School.
“They’ve been quite sexually explicit and the storyline not even appropriate for 10- to 13-year-old boys and girls,” she said. “You may say that the story is conveying a good message, but what about the garbage you have to read to get through the book?”
The woman noted that movies have a rating system that theaters abide by, and although the movie might have a good message, some of the content makes it R-rated (age restricted). The woman said she believes the board, librarians and educators are capable of doing a good job of rating books and making sure some aren’t available to young students.
She asked for a ban on sexually explicit non-age-appropriate books in the libraries, and to have districtwide parental consent for checking out the books and with a letter informing parents why it’s being done.
Deb Spoors, who said she teaches at Muskegon Community College and Davenport University, addressed age-appropriate information in regards to gender orientation. Spoors, a psychologist, said she believes it’s important for young children who are in the process of developing have the opportunity to research the topics in schools instead of other places, like the internet.
Spoors said it also gives adults an opportunity to have conversations with children about questions they might have. She said it’s important to have access to information instead of finding it on their own.
During last month’s school board meeting, Jennifer Stuppy raised concerns about sexually explicit books available in the school library. On Monday, Stuppy told the board that, following the meeting, she sat down with her sixth-graders to ask if they ever felt uncomfortable reading a book they received from school. Stuppy said her son indicated there was a book he received from his teacher. Stuppy, who read details from the book, said it details a 16-year-old girl being kidnapped and an older man sexually assaulting her.
“It’s pretty heavy reading material for a sixth-grader,” she said. “I would never have consented to this book for my child.”
Stuppy said she doesn’t believe the teacher realized the book’s content and believes the district’s teachers work hard and want students to read. Stuppy thinks there’s a problem with the rating system the district relies on. She noted the book her son read was rated for ages 12 and older.
Stuppy said she believes the district needs to take a closer look at the books and develop a way to flag sexually explicit content. She recommended the district provide a form at the beginning of the year that would allow parents to limit their child’s access to sexually explicit materials.
Stuppy said last week she received options from the school librarian that included receiving weekly updates about what her children are reading, children’s account log-in information, and a list of books her children can’t read, which Stuppy said puts a burden on the parents to figure out the books in the district that are explicit. Stuppy said she was also given the option to require parental consent for all books or ban her children from using the school library.
“None of these options are satisfactory, and they still expose the district to a liability of giving sexually explicit materials to minors,” she said.
Stuppy said she would like to see a districtwide change to involve parental notification for all sexually explicit books.
The Rev. Jared Cramer, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, spoke about reading the Bible as a child and coming across a story he hadn’t previously heard in Sunday school – the story of Abraham’s nephew and his daughters. When Cramer brought it to his mother’s attention, she suggested he wait until he was older to read Scripture.
Cramer said he shared the story for two points: some literature has sexually explicit content and reading a few lines doesn’t provide context to the larger narrative, and how his mother took an interest in what he was reading and made a decision that she felt was right for him.
Cramer said he was distraught a few weeks ago when he received screenshots of Facebook posts from a conservative parents group. He said someone in the group went through the library catalogs and created a list of LGBTQ-themed books available in the Grand Haven school district. From that list, Cramer said some books that contain explicit portions were pulled from the shelves, and the books are being used to argue restrictions and censorship of literature. The books range from a child who has two dads to the book that has had selections read at board meetings, which Cramer said isn’t what it’s made out to be.
Cramer said the Children’s and Young Adults’ Cataloging Program at the Library of Congress is available to help parents and librarians determine age-appropriate literature for children and young adults. He applauded the options offered by the district for parents to monitor and restrict books.
Cramer said it might raise some eyebrows, but sexual content in young adult literature “helps adolescents form a healthy and positive sense of their sexual identity.”
“Authentic portrayals that teens can relate to when it comes to healthy sexuality as an adolescent are already hard to find,” he said. “We shouldn’t make it worse.”