Speakers overwhelmingly oppose school district’s removal of books at board meeting
By Mike McCombs
Public speakers at Tuesday night’s Beaufort County Board of Education meeting made one thing clear – they don’t agree with the recent removal of 97 books from the school district’s middle and high school libraries.
More than 20 of the 100 or so people present at the start of the meeting at the Beaufort County School District Office in Mink Point spoke publicly, and just two were in favor of removing the books.
Port Royal’s Peter Birchbach had read just four of the 97 books, but he said all four shared some qualities.
“While these books are all very different, they all have some common elements,” Birchbach said. “They’re all well written, they’re all solid literature, they all examine complex topics in an intelligent manner, and they all explore the dark aspects of humanity. Our greed, our prejudice, our cruelty, our savagery, sometimes even outright evil. And these books all describe great bravery and heroism. Men and women who stood up and took action against the greed, the prejudice, the cruelty, and the evil, often at great personal expense. These are exactly the kind of lessons our kids should be learning.
“Clearly the book banning advocates have not done their homework. Book banning did not work in 1939 Germany, and it will not work in current-day America.”
Former teachers, current teachers, librarians, parents, a social worker, a candidate for State House District 124 and one student addressed the board about the books during the public comment session that lasted nearly two hours.
May River High School Student Body President Madison Hahn confessed that she had spoken to a fellow student about the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one of the 97.
Her unidentified fellow student had been pressured into a sexual situation in which she did not feel comfortable, similar to a situation in the book.
“Now, I agree that this content is, in fact, triggering. However, this is an important passage for the sixteen-year-old girl. She has confided in me a story of herself in a situation where a relationship was confused as consent,” Hahn said. “She had recently been guilted into having sexual relations with a boyfriend who refused to take her no as an answer. She felt violated and unsafe and disrespected, but these feelings were perceived as invalid.”
Hahn said the student felt guilty, like a “bad girlfriend,” for even feeling uncomfortable around her boyfriend.
“She felt used and dirty and objectified, but most of all did not know that these were normal feelings. This makes me wonder, what can I do to help women like my friend?” Hahn asked. “Where can I find a story that I can show her where she knows she is not alone and how can I teach high school students the effects of a situation like the aforementioned? And I realized that this solution exists, and it exists in our school libraries – or at least formerly existed there. Books mean more to people than just entertainment. A lot of these banned narratives are the realities for our students.”
Most of the speakers were respectful and thoughtful. Many simply implored the board to do their due diligence.
“I stand opposed to the banning of books,” Democratic candidate for House District 124 Barb Nash said. “The Beaufort County school board has a policy and a process in place, and I urge you to follow that process to the letter.”
Port Royal’s Barbara Berry was taken aback by the solidarity among the speakers.
“I want to say, my heart is so full to hear all these voices,” she said. “I thought no one agreed with
She said given the things teens now deal with on a daily basis, books at the library aren’t the biggest concern for her.
“I trust our teens to make the right choices,” she said. “These are kids who have had to navigate shooting drills, where violence is normalized. Where every day they face problems I never had to deal with. I believe each teen can choose the right book to read out of the school library.”
Dave Cook was the one dissenter in the early public comment period.
Cook said those speaking about banning books were “speaking in ignorance” and told the speakers they could be held criminally liable for providing these books to children.
“You seem to forget that these are our kids in schools right now, not yours,” he said, “and we have to consent to this material being given to them. It’s not the other way around.
Josh Malkin of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was present and spoke to the board, as well. He said there are nine situations like this one currently in the state of South Carolina.
Malkin said 97 books removed at once raises eyebrows since “book bans are unconstitutional.”
“(The school board) heard from a lot of really eloquent folks tonight, he said. “I’m hopeful they can make a right decision without a costly, time-consuming lawsuit.”
Beaufort County School District Superintendent Frank Rodriguez wasn’t surprised at the number of speakers pushing back against the removal of the books.
“This is the United States of America and everybody is entitled to their opinion and their voice, and that’s what you heard today,” he said. “You heard people pushing back on what they heard prior to this.”
The saga of the 97 books began back in the summer when word of organized book challenges made their way through the Beaufort County School District.
Then at the Oct. 18 Beaufort County Board of Education meeting, parents read very brief excerpts from books that could be found in libraries in Beaufort County Schools.
“It was just a few public speakers who read very short segments of books,” Board of Education Chair Christina Gwozdz said. “But they didn’t even tell us the title of the books. And it was very sexually explicit passages that were, I personally thought, were very degrading to women. But you didn’t get the context of what it was in or which book it was or what grade-level it was. It was such an isolated portion of the book, but it was concerning.”
Sometime after that meeting, a list of the 97 books made its way to the school district, and three days later, on October 21, the books were removed from the shelves.
The district has a policy for the removal of books, which requires a specific and in-depth form for each book a complainant wants removed, calling for very specific reasons why the book is offensive.
While the books were already removed, as of Tuesday night, Nov. 1, the district had still not received any formal complaints.
“At the end of the day, … we made the determination to go ahead and put them through the process,” Beaufort County School District Superintendent Frank Rodriguez said. “It’ll take some time, but we’ll get it done.”
Per policy, the District will form a seven-member committee, which must review each contested book individually and thoroughly. Rodriguez said the school district would put together as many committees as possible to make the process move more quickly.
Also, Rodriguez said they would try to prioritize books that might be used in curriculum. There is no timetable.
“Our target is as soon as possible,” Rodriguez said. “We want to get through it and we want to get through it the right way.”
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.
THE REMOVED BOOKS
The list of 97 books removed from Beaufort County School District Library shelves:
1. A Lesson in Vengeance
2. All Boys Aren’t Blue
3. All the Things We Do in the Dark
4. Almost Perfect
5. Ask the Passengers
7. Boy Girl Boy
10. City of Heavenly Fire
11. Clockwork Princess
13. Confess: A Novel
14. Cool for the Summer
15. Court of Frost and Starlight
16. Court of Mist and Fury
17. Court of Thorns and Roses
18. Court of Wings and Ruin
21. Eleanor and Park
22. Empire of Storms
23. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
26. Felix Ever After
28. Forever for a Year
29. Foul is Fair
30. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces
32. Go Ask Alice
36. Half of a Yellow Sun
38. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
39. I’ll Give You the Sun
42. It Ends With Us
43. Kingdom of Ash
44. Last Night at the Telegraph Club
46. Leah on the Offbeat
47. Living Dead Girl
49. Looking for Alaska
51. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
52. Milk and Honey
53. Monday’s Not Coming
54. More Happy Than Not
55. Nineteen Minutes
56. November 9
57. Oryx and Crake
58. Out of Darkness
61. Ramona Blue
62. Red at the Bone
71. The Art of Racing in the Rain
72. The Black Flamingo
73. The Bluest Eye
74. The Carnival at Bray
75. The Duff
76. The Female of the Species
77. The Fixer
78. The Freedom Writers Diary
79. The Handmaid’s Tale
80. The Haters
81. The Infinite Moment of Us
82. The Kite Runner
83. The Lovely Bones
84. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
85. The Poet X
86. The Truth About Alice
87. The Upside of Unrequited
88. The You I’ve Never Known
89. Thirteen Reasons Why
90. This One Summer
92. Tower of Dawn
94. Water for Elephants