After challenge, Virginia school district to remove 14 sexually explicit books from libraries to comply with state law

Fourteen books will be removed this week from libraries in Spotsylvania County Public Schools following a formal challenge process initiated by a parent.

In a district memorandum obtained by The…

Fourteen books will be removed this week from libraries in Spotsylvania County Public Schools following a formal challenge process initiated by a parent.

In a district memorandum obtained by The Lion, Superintendent Mark Taylor explained the books were determined to fall under the district’s policy on “instructional materials,” revised in December according to a new Virginia state law requiring districts to put such policies in place.

“This decision is driven by my belief that our division should adhere to our Policy IIA and comply with Virginia law,” Taylor wrote, emphasizing it would be a mischaracterization to call the decision a ban.

“Note that this decision does not prohibit teachers from including any of the books listed above in classroom assignments with parental notification, etc., in accordance with the applicable law and policy,” he added. 

The 14 books are: 

  1. “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto” by George Johnson 
  2. “Like a Love Story” by Abdi Nazemian 
  3. “Dime” by E. R. Frank 
  4. “Sold” by Patricia McCormick 
  5. “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez 
  6. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison 
  7. “America” by E. R. Frank 
  8. “Looking for Alaska” by John Green 
  9. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky 
  10. “Water for Elephants” by Sarah Gruen  
  11. “Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe” by Preston Norton 
  12. “More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera 
  13. “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
  14. “Nineteen Minutes” by Jodi Picoult    

The district also published a 76-page document containing offending passages from the 14 books, as well as information about which school libraries contained them.

A passage from the first book, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” depicts a graphic sexual molestation recounted by the author, 13 at the time, perpetrated by his older boy cousin: 

“I promised [not to tell anyone]. You then grabbed my hand and made me touch it. It was the first time I had ever touched a penis that wasn’t my own. I knew what was happening wasn’t supposed to happen. Cousins weren’t supposed to do these things with cousins.” 

In “Nineteen Minutes,” which revolves around the story of a school shooting, one passage graphically describes a high school boy under the influence of alcohol forcefully having sex with a high school girl:

“‘Wait,’ Josie said, trying to roll away beneath him, but he clamped his hand over her mouth and drove harder and harder until Josie felt him come.”

Themes of suicide are also present in some of the book excerpts, as well as drugs and racism. A list of obscene words for each book is also included in the document of examples.

According to the memo, a review committee had previously recommended the 14 books should remain in school libraries, while 18 others should be removed. But Taylor’s concern is about compliance with the new policy and state law, as well as what is feasible for the school. 

It is indisputable that each of the 14 books listed above includes sexually explicit content as it is defined in the law,” Taylor writes, explaining the only way the district could keep the books and comply with the law is by creating an onerous parental notification and book storage system the district can’t afford. 

“So, having met with the complainant, it is my decision and direction on our further course of action as a division (pursuant to Procedure G.9. in Regulation IIA *- R) that all 14 of the books listed above are to be excluded from our SCPS school libraries,” Taylor concluded. “All copies of these books are to be removed from our libraries and delivered to the School Board Office, and I will recommend that they be declared surplus property and donated to a public library.” 

The memo stipulates that copies of the books should be delivered to the superintendent’s office by Friday at 4:00 p.m. 

The announcement follows a school board meeting Monday in which Taylor warned of a budget shortfall of $22 million for 2024, along with “possible choices to close the gap,” including cutting positions and closing libraries.  

While some criticized the potential cuts, Taylor emphasized it was not a recommendation.  

“We came forward responsibly and in good faith to present the true needs of this division,” he said, according to local media. “And they are set before the community. We need the whole dime from our county. We need the state to do their part. And that’s what we’re shooting for here.” 

Spotsylvania County Public Schools, located just southwest of Fredericksburg, Virginia, has nearly 24,000 students currently enrolled.