Board members Kirk Twigg and Rabih Abuismail voted against rescinding the decision.
On Monday, dozens of students, parents and teachers turned out to show their displeasure with the board. Some hoisted signs reading “Give back the books!” and “Books not bonfires,” according to the Free Lance-Star.
Many Spotsylvanians spoke during a public comment period that stretched for more than four hours. A high-schooler told the board that censorship is “contagious and leads to much worse,” according to the Free Lance-Star. A county librarian added, “If you have a worldview that can be undone by a novel, let me suggest that the problem is not the novel,” the Free Lance-Star reported.
Close to midnight, after public comment wound down, board member Baron Braswell proposed that the previous vote to remove sexually explicit texts “be rescinded immediately,” Braswell said in an interview, “and that was basically it.”
Although Braswell’s motion passed with a solid majority, he warned the decision may not hold for long, noting the board is gaining new members in January.
Braswell said he wanted to rescind the book removal because the school district’s attorney had informed the board it was probably unconstitutional. The attorney argued in a memo to board members Thursday that the removals would prevent children from reading about certain political ideas and social viewpoints, violating the right to free speech.
Braswell added that the school district already has procedures for dealing with parent complaints about books, and that he wants the books challenged at the Nov. 8 meeting to go through the established process. Braswell said he did not know about the existing system for challenged books last week — and if he had, would not have voted in favor of removing the sexually explicit texts.
“None of us, for certain, ever believed in censorship or burning books. That’s just not who we are,” Braswell said. “Everybody was caught off guard last week.”
At the Nov. 8 meeting, a mother and father complained about two texts: “Call Me By Your Name,” an acclaimed novel that centers on a gay relationship, and “33 Snowfish,” a story about three homeless teens that was named a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association in 2004.
The mother called “33 Snowfish” “disgusting” for its discussion of sexual abuse. She added that she had searched the school system’s online library catalogue and found 172 hits for the word “gay,” as well as 84 hits for the word “lesbian.”
Similar discussions are bubbling up at school board meetings across the country, as parents — often Christian, White and conservative — launch attacks on books ranging from LGBTQ memoirs to decades-old classics such as Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.” In response, school officials nationwide are scrutinizing and sometimes yanking the texts out of circulation.
In nearby Fairfax County, Va., the district removed two LGBTQ books for review in September after parents complained of sexually explicit content. That review is ongoing. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) last week ordered a statewide probe of possible “criminal activity” committed by librarians in connection with adding “pornography” to school shelves.
The Nov. 8 vote in Spotsylvania drew national attention after two members suggested burning removed books. “I think we should throw those books in a fire,” Abuismail said during the meeting, with Twigg adding he would like to “see the books before we burn them.”
Speakers at Monday’s meeting said Abuismail and Twigg violated school district policies and the board’s code of ethics, and many urged Abuismail to resign, according to the Free Lance-Star. Others suggested he should issue a public apology to the Spotsylvania school system’s librarians. A petition demanding Abuismail’s removal had garnered more than 1,000 signatures as of Monday night, the Free Lance-Star reported.
Abuismail did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday, nor to a question asking if he intends to publish an apology. He previously told The Washington Post he does not actually want to burn books and that he misspoke in a heated moment of frustration and anger.