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Madison Hahn, Student Body President of May River High School, made her feelings known regarding the recent removal of 97 books from Beaufort County School Libraries during the public comment segment of the Beaufort County Board of Education meeting on Tuesday at the district office. Bob Sofaly/The Island News

Bring back the books

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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.

Karen Jordan, center, music teacher at Joseph A. Shanklin Elementary School, directs her Sand Dollar Scholars in song to start Tuesday night’s Beaufort County Board of Education meeting at the district office in Mink Point. The students sang their song and headed back to their school bus. Photos by Bob Sofaly/The Island News

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

me.”

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.

Kate Joy holds up a small sign to voice her disapproval of banning books in Beaufort County Schools on Tuesday during the school board’s regular meeting. Most, save a very few, of the roughly 100 people in attendance were opposed to the District’s removal of 97 books. Photos by Bob Sofaly/The Island News

“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

6. Beautiful

7. Boy Girl Boy

8. Breathless

9. Burned

10. City of Heavenly Fire

11. Clockwork Princess

12. Collateral

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

19. Crank

20. Damsel

21. Eleanor and Park

22. Empire of Storms

23. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

24. Fade

25. Fallout

26. Felix Ever After

27. Flamer

28. Forever for a Year

29. Foul is Fair

30. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces

31. Glass

32. Go Ask Alice

33. Grit

34. grl2grl

35. Grown

36. Half of a Yellow Sun

37. Hopeless

38. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

39. I’ll Give You the Sun

40. Identical

41. Impulse

42. It Ends With Us

43. Kingdom of Ash

44. Last Night at the Telegraph Club

45. Layla

46. Leah on the Offbeat

47. Living Dead Girl

48. Lolita

49. Looking for Alaska

50. Lucky

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

59. Perfect

60. Push

61. Ramona Blue

62. Red at the Bone

63. Rumble

64. Scars

65. Shine

66. Skin

67. Smoke

68. Sold

69. Speak

70. Stamped

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

91. Tilt

92. Tower of Dawn

93. Tricks

94. Water for Elephants

95. Wintergirls

96. Yolk

97. YOLO

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