The RSU 24 school board will reconsider a January decision to restrict student access to two LGBTQ books at its middle and high school in Sullivan.
The district’s materials review committee decided in January that the two books — “Queer: The Ultimate LGBTQ Guide for Teens” by Kathy Belge and Mark Bieschke, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe — should be removed from the library of the Charles M. Sumner Learning Campus and kept instead in the guidance counselor’s office.
The board is expected to review the committee decision when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Mountain View School in Sullivan.
Both books are still accessible to Sumner students through the guidance counselor. The guidance counselor offers to talk to interested students about the content of the books, but the students are not required to accept the offer, according to RSU 24 Board Chair Roy Gott. He said students can check either book out of the guidance counselor’s office, but that parental permission is needed to check out “Gender Queer,” a graphic novel that has more visually explicit content than the other book.
Kobabe’s book ranks among the most challenged books available in school and public libraries, according to the American Library Association.
commonly challenged books
“Gender Queer” also has faced other challenges, with differing results, in Maine school districts based in Buxton, Dixfield, Turner and Union. Other school districts in the state have deliberated more generally whether to keep books with gender and sexual content in their libraries.
Gott said he had not read either book that has been removed from the Sumner library, but that he expects to do so in the near future. As part of the review process, RSU 24 board members likely will be provided with copies of the books on Tuesday, and then will take them home to read them, Gott said.
The board is expected to make a decision at its meeting on March 7 about whether the school copies should remain in the guidance counselor’s office or be returned to the library, and whether access should be restricted to students in certain grades, he said.
Gott said that, generally speaking, he is not in favor of restricting access to any materials that serve an educational purpose, even if it makes some people uncomfortable. But he added that some people may be more concerned with explicit visual sexual imagery in books like “Gender Queer” than they are about the general theme of not adhering to traditional gender roles or identities.
“It’s a question about the value [the books provide to the students],” Gott said. “Does it bring value to the educational system?”