By Mike McCombs
“The light at the end of the tunnel.”
Bluffton High School Librarian Karen Gareis was likely more prophetic than she realized at Tuesday evening’s Beaufort County Board of Education meeting at the Beaufort County School District (BCSD) offices in Beaufort.
Gareis was speaking about some of the 97 books removed from BCSD school library shelves and how many, which dealt with controversial subject matter, were important because they could show students that there can be positive outcomes from bad situations.
“The books that we’re pulling off the shelves could potentially save a student’s life,” Gareis told The Island News after her public comments. “They are the messages and the stories that they need to read, they need to hear. They need to see those circumstances play out in real life and know it will get better.
“There’s not a single book on my shelf that doesn’t have a message of hope at the end of some controversial subject, so regardless of the presence of potentially controversial material, these are things that are actively happening in their lives, and we would be idiotic to think that we could throw rainbows and sprinkles in front of them and they’d want to read that. They want to see their story on the pages. They want to know that it’s going to be OK.”
Gareis couldn’t have known Isabella Troy’s situation. The Battery Creek High School senior only attended the school board meeting because her young cousin was performing for the board with the Coosa Elementary School Chorus.
But she stayed for the public comments. And what she heard angered her.
And inspired her.
Troy wasn’t even aware of the removal of books from the district’s library shelves or the efforts of some parents to have books removed. She was dumbfounded.
“I was like, ‘banning books?’ I feel like that should be the last thing they should worry about,” Troy said. “People have fought for years across the world to have the right to read books. And here we are, talking about banning them?”
Then she heard something that hit a nerve … and hit close to home. Too close.
One of the public commenters who spoke in favor of removing the books said the subject matter in these books would lead to several terrible outcomes for kids, including drug abuse.
“It hit a nerve. It hit a nerve like I have never felt one hit before. I was angry, and then I realized … she never read. She never read books,” Troy said. “Because she would know reading books, it teaches you what not to do. It teaches you what to do. It gives you a stronger sense of empathy. It expands your comprehension. It extends your vocabulary. There’s no negative effects of reading books. But only a person that actually reads books would know that.”
Troy wanted to speak. She approached Bluffton’s Jodie Srutek, who had spoken in the first public comment period, about how to get in front of the board.
Srutek steered her in the right direction, and in the second public comment period, Troy’s name was called.
Scared, nervous and visibly shaking, Troy stood in front of the school board and began to speak about the book removal and why she was opposed.
“My brother overdosed this weekend,” she said, struggling to stay composed.
Her brother is OK now. A 15 year old in Hampton County, he was given drugs at school. LSD. They believe it was laced because he lost consciousness and seized.
Troy’s mother, a paramedic, had to resuscitate her son on her living room floor. He was give NARCAN to get him back.
Troy said he brother struggles in school sometimes, but he’s a good kid. Stays out of trouble. He did this to fit in with friends.
“Books that contain drug content are banned in his school,” she said, “but here he is seizing on my mom’s (floor), throwing up, ending up in the hospital.”
Troy told the board removing books containing certain behaviors wouldn’t stop the behavior.
She likened it to texting and driving. Adults can preach about texting and driving and how dangerous it is. But unless young people see what the effects of their actions can be, they simply won’t listen.
But reading about it might have a different outcome.
“If your kids are at home reading books about doing drugs instead of being out on the street actually doing them,” Troy said, “you’ve already done your job as educators, you’ve already done your job as parents.”
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.