Others say LGBTQ+ books targeted are work of hate groups
By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – While Dearborn Public Schools officials review controversial books questioned at a Sept. 12 school board meeting, community members have responded with concern that the works in question target the LBGTQ+ community.
David Mustonen, DPS Communications director, said in a Sept. 15 email that the district has not banned any books, but is currently reviewing seven books, two of which are available online through a Wayne County Consortium, and one of which is a Dearborn Public Library book.
The seven books under review are: “Push: A Novel” by Sapphire “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold, “Eleanor & Park” by Rainbow Rowell, “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston, and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson.
“The district has not banned any books,” Mustonen said. “Student access to SORA, the web-based system that provides access to e-books in the Wayne consortium has been temporarily removed while the district works with Overdrive, the company that manages the software, to develop a way to manage what books are available at different grade levels.”
He said the criteria for the review process will be approved, then a review committee will be selected and approved by the administration.
Mustonen said reviewing book access is a topic many districts face, and is one that brings out emotions and viewpoints on both sides.
“There are a number of people who don’t want certain books available to their children and there are equal numbers who are afraid this is going to end up with books being banned,” he said. “(It is) highly emotional and highly divided, and school districts are left in the middle to figure it out.”
Mustonen said that while Michigan school districts must comply with state and federal laws, they must also contend with community customs and beliefs.
He said an example is scheduling days off to coincide with religious holidays, which does not promote one religion over another, but which acknowledges how it affects local school district operations.
“These are easy topics to address, but when you are talking about something that is way more emotional, way more tied to someone’s core principles, then the discussions and actions become much more difficult,” Mustonen said. “However, I think it is important to point out that we are not banning books and we have not banned any books.
“We are evaluating books to ensure that they are age-appropriate and if the content is being presented in an appropriate context.”
Mustonen said the school district is evaluating the process that facilitates parent input, as well as how students access books that are available through the county e-book system and those on shelves in classrooms.
Retired Dearborn Public School teacher Paul Bruce said the books targeted are primarily for use by the LBGQT+ population, and he finds the attempts to ban them “disgraceful.”
Speaking about Dawson’s “This Book is Gay,” he said it is a wonderful resource book for people in the LGBQT+ community.
“She has peppered the book with humor and makes it clear the book is a learning resource for everyone, even those outside the LGBQT+ community,” Bruce said. “The book addresses so many important aspects of an individual’s sexual orientation that I wished had been available when I was growing up. Instead of leaving youth in the dark as to an aspect of their life they cannot control, questions are answered clearly and with dignity.”
Bruce said that when he was growing up, the only groups that spoke about the LGBQT+ community were those who maligned, vilified and demonized them.
“Our school board should recognize that the chief complaints come from a person who is a member of ‘Moms for Liberty,’ a known hate group,” he said. “It is a shame that the complaints were even recognized at all, particularly when this person has tried to make those who will listen believe that a book can ‘make’ someone become LGBQT+.”
Bruce said it is the parents’ responsibility, and not the school district’s, to monitor what their children read.
“In this country we do not take away resources from a group of people because another individual or group does not like them,” he said. “I sincerely hope that DPS returns their books after they have examined them and makes these important resources available again.”
Footage of the Sept. 12 board meeting is available at youtube.com, posted in four segments.