SJ School Board Clarifies Book Review Policy After Parent’s Comment on ‘Pornographic’ Book

During the public consultation of the August St. Joseph School Board meeting, district mother Valerie Gehrke asked the district to be aware of a book she deemed to be pornographic in nature. On Monday, Gehrke returned to the board to thank the administration for removing the book from the library.

The only problem, however, was that the book had not been withdrawn from circulation.

Addressing the confusion near the end of Monday’s September school board meeting, Saint Joseph Superintendent Jenny Fee said Elana K. Arnold’s “What Girls Are Made Of” book was not removed from circulation, but has been checked by the media center specialist as part of a regular review process. It had not yet been formally challenged.

“I wanted to clarify this procedure, because I think there is a misconception,” Fee said. “We haven’t officially released this book. …If someone wants to challenge a book that is in our classroom libraries, we have a well-established process.

Expenses referred to NEOLA board policy 9130which sets out the criteria for challenging teaching materials at school.

“If someone came [to challenge material], they should have a conversation with a teacher or media center specialist first,” Fee said. “Once the form is completed, we create a committee … and this committee reviews these books according to certain criteria.”

Fee also said any challenged books will remain in circulation until the review process is concluded.

The book “What are girls made of” was 2017 National Book Award finalist for children’s literature. The National Book Foundation described the book as an examination of what it means to be a girl, a woman, and a physical object:

“This challenging work invites readers to look within and explore their own identities and imperfections,” the judges said. A solid backbone of feminist mythology gives the novel an extra layer of depth and pain. The result is both devastating and healing, and utterly unforgettable. – Quote from the judges

At the August meeting, Gehrke strongly disagreed with the book being on school shelves, saying the book was too sexually explicit for children to read.

“It was pornography,” she said. “It’s nothing that I would want my daughter, my son, or any other child to read. It got me thinking… what level of content could be accessible to our students.

She asked the board to clarify their process for reviewing what is included in the library.

“I encourage you, if you haven’t heard of it, take a look,” Gehrke said. “Don’t show this to your children, because I would hate for a child to read this and get upset, or ask a lot of questions they weren’t ready to ask yet.”

This week at the board meeting, Gehrke said she had a list of 39 other books she found had explicit sexual content.

“I was shocked and surprised,” she said. “Some of the books that we have in circulation, if I’m only looking at the high school level right now, have an ‘adult’ rating, which is obviously quite concerning. Hopefully we can maybe get some of that stuff out and keep stuff more appropriate for our school-aged kids.

Another parent, who identified only as Stephanie – a parent of two high school students – disagreed during public comments.

“I read it and there is sexual content, but there is so much more to this book,” she said. “It’s a great book. It’s about girls wondering what love means, where they fit into society, and what their role is in all of this. … The fact that there are 39 other books to discuss bothers me.

By Ryan Yuenger
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