GUILFORD – At a Board of Education meeting on Monday night, 11 parents and members of the community spoke for and against the availability of books in public school libraries containing explicit sexuality or featuring LGBTQ themes. The turnout is the latest in an series of hot button debates dating back to 2021 that have put the town on the map as ground zero in partisan skirmishing over how and what children are taught in the nation’s public schools.
Gloria Gibney read passages from Lawn Boy, a book by Jonathan Eviston about a Mexican-American boy who loses his job mowing lawns and struggles to find the American Dream.
I said to mom, “My fucking mower is gone. Fuck, mom. What if I get a fucking landscaping gig?” “Every other word out of your mouth is fuck.”
“She’s right. You know,” said Freddy from the sofa, where he was smoking a joint. Fuck you, Freddy.
He took a slug of the whiskey and passed it to me. “But dude, did you seriously put a guy’s dick in your mouth?” I passed the bottle back. “I was in fourth grade.”
She criticized the book for its repeated use of words like “fuck,” “dick,” and “fag.”
“Instead of being a guidebook with solutions to overcome mixed sexual identity, minority status, struggling family existences or suggested pathways to overcome lack of educational or vocational training … the book has in it the characters who are addicted to porn, gambling on sports games, doing drugs, bankrupt employers, and language that is vulgar,” said Gibney.
Others said they did not want to “ban” books from being in the libraries, but wanted “transparency” regarding what materials are available to their children. Chris Esposito said he wanted to be made aware if his daughter took certain books out of the library, so he could have a “controlled conversation” with her.
“We have music that has ratings on it. We have video games that have ratings on it.
We have movies that have ratings on it for a reason,” said Esposito. “It’s because of the audience and what they can take in and digest as an individual.”
Esposito referenced a graphic novel called “Flamer,” which is the story of a boy named Aiden, who is grappling with his identity as Catholic and gay at a Boy Scout Camp. The book includes a scene in which Aiden and several other boys at the camp ejaculate into a Mountain Dew bottle.
“It’s not about banning. The thing is, these books — it’s not your place to give it to our kids,” echoed Jennifer Esposito. “The parents should be made aware. There’s got to be a way that we can communicate and make it accessible but have the parents aware that these books are being given to their children.”
Board Chair Kathleen Balestracci said that the board had received 29 emails in the last two weeks voicing concerns about the possibility the schools would remove books from their libraries, and two complaints regarding the suitability of books in the libraries.
Some of the emails, she said, referenced comments made on social media.
“I have personally seen some of these comments on social media, and I must state that I am appalled at the attacks on, and insinuation about our school librarians,” said Balestracci. “These professional educators conduct their jobs with great care and expertise, and vicious attacks on their character or job performance based on the presence of particular books in our school libraries is unjustified and undeserved.”
Balestracci said the board had not received any specific requests for the removal of books from the library, but if a request was made, the board would “carefully consider the request and proceed in accordance with appropriate Board of Education policy and procedure.”
Balestracci reiterated the board’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and said the board would be “disinclined” to remove student access to materials.
Paula Pasieka, who works at Baldwin Middle School Library, said that it was critical to consider the books in their entirety and without bias — something she said that professional librarians take very seriously.
“It is very easy to select quotes and soundbites that can be taken out of context to intentionally incite and inflame public opinion and to forward personal agendas,” said Pasieka.
Lisa Kelly, who has two children at A.W. Cox Middle School and said she has worked for years in the book publishing industry, said that books like the ones parents are asking to have removed from the shelves allow children to see their identities reflected in the literature they read.
“It’s particularly disheartening for me to hear that there are members of our community jumping on what feels like a national right wing movement to remove books from libraries and classrooms, particularly ones that relate to the experience of the LGBTQ plus community,” said Kelly.
Dawn Carafeno, told the board that she believed it would have been helpful for her daughter, who came out as gay at the age of 14, and for their family, to have had access to some of the books being discussed.
“It was a long process for her to come out to us. And so, prior to her being 14 years old and coming out to us as a gay woman — as a gay person —- she was many years trying to figure herself out. Trying to figure out how to make that change, make that acknowledgement in her life and to her family,” said Carafeno. “It would’ve been beneficial to her — and to us as her parents — to have had more literature available to her.”
Bob Harrington said he was willing to spend more time paying attention to what his son was reading if it meant that LGBTQ students would be able to find literature that reflected their own experiences.
“There are children out there who will kill themselves if they don’t have access to understanding that they’re normal. There’s nothing wrong with them,” said Harrington. “And if I have to pay a little extra attention to what my son is doing to give them a chance to come into contact with that information that they can’t get elsewhere … then so be it.”