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Library Books Draw Outrage
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

UPSD administration reviewing four books


            A handful of residents oppose the availability of four books to students at the Upper Perkiomen High School. Last week, they asked the school board to immediately remove them.

            Jennifer Beltz, a Marlborough Township resident, claimed that they were a bad influence on children. She described them as pornographic, inappropriate, disturbing, sexually explicit, violent and graphic. Beltz claimed they had no place in a school library.

            Three read aloud the passages they found most objectionable. Beltz warned anyone with children to leave the auditorium at the middle school on Oct. 14 before reading a sexually explicit passage appearing to depict pedophilia.

            Nicole Benning read from a separate book a passage describing a child "who liked to perform oral sex." She claimed it included a justification for pushing over a pregnant teacher.

            A Pennsburg resident then started to read a passage from one of the books with explicit references to body parts. Geoff Wilson cut his comments short when he realized he was repeating a passage previously identified by Beltz.

            Kim Hixson, a Marlborough resident, demanded the creation of a committee to determine how they ended up in the library, and that they be removed. Wilson suggested the members expedite the process.

            "You should walk your asses into the library and just remove them," he said during the meeting.

            Members Keith McCarrick, Stephen Cunningham and Mike Elliot expressed support for the residents' position. According to McCarrick, the district is working as quickly as possible to remove them from the shelves. Speaking for the entire board, Cunningham said "We are all in agreeance with you."

            Elliot called the books terrible, and added that "they have to come out." He also apologized to any young people in attendance who were forced to hear the salacious descriptions. However, Cunningham and Elliot stressed the need to follow a review process that has already started.

            Assistant Superintendent Andrea Farina informed the audience that the district is working to determine the content of the books. She said they can only be removed if they have no educational value.

            McCarrick told the audience he recently asked administrators to work in "an expeditious manner." He said he didn't believe anyone on the board would justify the kind of behavior depicted in those books.  "I certainly wouldn't let any of my children check those books out," McCarrick said.

            School officials received an email message regarding the concerns on Oct. 12. Farina took immediate action "as she was supposed to do," according to Member Judth Maginnis.

            A team of administrators including Farina, Superintendent Allyn Roche, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Kimberly A. Bast, high school Librarian Kathy Stattel and Principal Robert Carpenter are working to determine their content and value, according to the assistant superintendent. She did not provide a timeline for when they would deliver a recommendation to the board.

            The removal of any book must be done in a systematic way and for a legally defensible reason, according to Solicitor Matt Hovey. He said more hasty action could be a violation of the First Amendment and potentially expose the district to a federal civil rights lawsuit.

            Any actions must follow standards set in a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Decision. In Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico, the court held that factual disputes about the school board's motivation for the removal precluded the school board from prevailing in the lower court without a full trial, according to information posted on Middle Tennessee State University's website.

            According to Hovey, the goal of the book removal policy is to protect the district from becoming entangled in a First Amendment lawsuit and avoid the legal fees a potential appearance before the Supreme Court might generate.

            All four books explore issues of race, sex and gender among children. Three of them have received similar criticism across the country.

            "The Bluest Eye," published in 1970, tells the tragic story of Pecola Breedlove, an 11-year-old African American girl from an abusive home. The debut novel by Nobel Prize-winning, and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, is now considered an American classic and an essential account of the African American experience after the Great Depression, according to a description at It states that the main character Pecola equates beauty and social acceptance with whiteness; she, therefore, longs to have "the bluest eye."

            Last year, a school district in southern California reversed a recent decision to remove the novel from its core and extended reading list for upper-level AP English Literature classes, according to an Oct. 1 2020 article on the Los Angeles Times website.

            In "Beyond Magenta" (2014), author Susan Kunklin interviewed six transgender or gender-neutral young adults and used her considerable skills to represent them thoughtfully and respectfully before, during, and after their personal acknowledgment of gender preference, according to the author's website.

            In "Out of the Darkness" (2015), author Ashley Hope Pérez – a 2016 Michael L. Printz Award finalist, one of the highest honors for Young Adult literature – writes the fictional story of a Mexican girl and Black boy falling in love following the real-life 1937 New London school explosion in East Texas, a historical event that killed approximately 300 students and teachers, according to Oct. 2 article in the Columbus (OH) Dispatch. It states that her book has been banned or put on challenge lists to be reviewed for removal in at least three school districts in Texas, where Perez was born and spent much of her life living.

            In "All Boys Aren't Blue" (2020), author George M. Johnson – a journalist and LGBTQ+ activist – explores his childhood and adolescence growing up in Plainfield, NJ as well as his college years attending an HBCU in Virginia, according to a June 2020 article posted on the website of Deadline, which covers Hollywood. It states that the young adult memoir, when covers memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five to his loving relationship with his grandmother whom he affectionately called "Nanny," to his first sexual experience, the young adult memoir showcases the life of growing up under the duality of being black and queer.

            I'll Have Another Productions, a company owned by actress Gabrielle Union, optioned the television rights to develop as a series with Sony Pictures TV, according to the article.





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