UPDATED: School district okays controversial books
MATTAPOISETT — The Old Rochester Regional School District voted that ten books that were previously under review following complaints will remain in school libraries.
Rochester resident and school committee member Matthew Monteiro filed the complaints on Dec. 12, 2022.
“I do not agree that these books are obscene or problematic, and I support the representation of marginalized communities, but my opinions are those of one individual,” wrote Monteiro in a letter to Old Rochester Regional High School Principal Michael Devoll. “It is time that these books go through the process of review so that all can be satisfied that they have been evaluated and peoples’ concerns can be addressed.”
According to documents released by the Old Rochester Regional School District, the books under review were: "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson, "Beyond Magenta" by Susan Kuklin, "Flamer" by Mike Curato, "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe, "Lawn Boy" by Jonathan Evison, "Out of Darkness" by Ashley Hope Pérez, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas, and “Let's Talk About It: The Teen's Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan.
These books, available in Old Rochester Regional High School and Junior High School libraries, have come under fire for what some call sexually explicit language and imagery.
According to Old Rochester Regional School District Superintendent Mike Nelson, the books went through several stages of review following appeals by Monteiro. The process began with an “informal conversation” with school principals about the books.
Then, the discussion was appealed to the Standards Committee, a body that includes Joint School Committee Chair Michelle Smith, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Shari Fedorowicz, High School Principal Michael Devoll, High School Librarian Allison Barker and English Department Coordinator Robert Biehl.
The Standards Committee unanimously voted to keep the books in school libraries.
According to documents released by the Old Rochester Regional Joint School Committee, each book meets all the standards of a 10-point rubric that looks for, among other metrics, “high standards of quality in factual content, artistic and literary value, and presentation.”
The matter was then appealed to the superintendent, who agreed with the Standards Committee’s assessment, and then finally to the School Committee.
In an email to Nelson, Fedorowicz and Smith, Monteiro wrote that he while he agrees with the decisions made by the Standards Committee and the superintendent, he still believes that “the community (especially the students) [are] owed transparency as to how the process took place and, ultimately, for the school committee to make a final determination based on [ the Standards Committee’s] expert perspectives.”
The school committee voted to keep each book in school libraries, where they will remain for a minimum of three years.
School Committee member Joe Piers cast a negative vote for each book.
“The majority does not feel the way [Monteiro] feels,” said Pires. “Visual depictions of sexual acts [cannot be approved.]”
“It’s unfortunate that a parent’s right to protect their child’s innocence is being superseded,” he added.
The documents also noted that the 10 books in question are “available for students but not required,” and that parents can “allow their children not to check out [a] book.”
“Simply because a community member has a personal objection to a material does not mean it should be unavailable to all students,” said Monteiro. “I’d like to remind everyone that these materials are not taught in the classroom, they are optionally available to those who seek them out.”
The following are brief synopsis of the review process for each challenged book, including the complaint filed by Monteiro and the Standards Committee’s decision on each book.
All Boys Aren’t Blue
In his complaint, Monteiro cited “sexually explicit material” in the chapter “Losing my virginity twice.” He noted that “the theme of the book is carving a place of belonging in a world that doesn’t think there is a place for you.”
“The chapter about the character being a victim to sexual abuse was not glorified or promoted,” wrote the Standards Committee. “Within the school community we have students that have been sexually abused by family members and this is a connection for these students.”
The Standards Committee went on to say that the chapter “Losing my virginity twice,” which deals with sexual abuse, was “not intended to provide pornographic pleasure, but for awareness and empathy.”
In his complaint, Monteiro cited “sexual content and abuse,” that could cause readers to “have difficulty with emotionally difficult and mature content.” He goes on to note that the book “captures transgender people as complex individuals not defined by their gender alone.”
The complaint regarding “the chapter that detailed child abuse and sexual abuse” are “real experiences told through the eyes of an abused individual and helps other readers that can relate to the experience,” wrote the Standards Committee. “The abuse is not being portrayed as desirable or favorable and does not promote grooming.”
In his complaint, Monteiro cited “sexual acts such as a shower scene and group masturbation,” and that a reader “might experience discomfort while reading some scenes.” He notes that the book “explores the uncertainties of adolescence in a relatable way, emotionally, for males.”
The Standards Committee wrote that “Flamer” is “like windows and mirrors for students to validate at this age and student view of life events and issues as well as exploration of sexual identity.”
In his complaint, Monteiro cited “graphic depictions of sexual exploration,” and that the result of reading this book is “learning about how other genders and sexualities exist.” He noted that the deals with themes of “self discovery.”
“Gender Queer” is a “great resource for students who are exploring their own gender identity that can not find similar representation in other sources,” wrote the Standards Committee. “Some students may not be interested, but it is made available for students that do need a reference.”
In his complaint, Monteiro cited “sexually explicit content between children,” that would cause readers “to be exposed to sexual acts.” He noted that the book deals with “social class distinction, overcoming discrimination and standing up for oneself.”
The Standards Committee wrote that there was a difference between “playing doctor versus engaging in oral sex,” and that because the character in the book “reflects on a changing moment or moments in his life,” the book is a “literary experience and not obscenity or pornography.”
Let’s Talk About It
In his complaint, Monteiro wrote that the book is “full of sex acts and depictions of nudity,” and that readers will “learn a lot about various sexual and relational encounters.” He added that “though the book is explicit, the information appears accurate” and that it “teaches readers about various sexual activities, but also emotion, consent and respect.”
“‘Let’s Talk About It’ discusses how to talk to partners from both partners’ sides,” wrote the Standards Committee. “The book does depict sexual acts and sexuality but in a non-fiction [way for the purposes of] sexual education.”
Out of Darkness
In his complaint, Monteiro wrote that “Out of Darkness” contains “depictions of abuse and sexually explicit scenes,” and that readers “could learn about trauma (and possibly react to their own similar trauma.)”
The Standards Committee wrote that the book has the “educational value of preventing abuse as opposed to grooming or promoting abuse.” They added that while the book is historical fiction, it is based on “racism and abuse [that are] true events occurring during that time period.”
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
In his complaint, Monteiro cited “profanity and sexual references, racism, bullying and violence.” He added that “readers will likely feel uncomfortable; it is challenging … It provides deep, real honesty about hard life events and experiences.”
The Standards Committee wrote that the book “allows for meaningful conversations,” and that “the library is full of various and different ways to depict different organizations or community members as a means to telling a story rather than pushing an agenda.”
The Bluest Eye
In his complaint, Monteiro cites “child sexual abuse and racism,” that is “emotionally burdonsome and difficult for some readers.” He added that the book is a “classic” that is “both challenged and applauded for its tackling of some very dark and problematic parts of humanity.”
“The entire book is not sexual in nature as a whole, but rather depicts abuse in a negative light and provides an opportunity to provide assistance to the reader to protect themselves,” wrote the Standards Committee. The book “provides exposure for individuals that many not have necessarily gone through abuse themselves, but may know someone who has been abused and/or provide empathy for the person and situation.”
The Hate U Give
In his complaint, Monteiro cites “violence and death,” and what some see as an “anti-police agenda.” He added that readers of this book may “begin to see more nuance in societal interactions and social structures.”
The Standards Committee wrote that the book “allows for meaningful conversations,” and that the character in the book “struggles with both sides related to police officers and race, and encourages the reader to think about both sides.”