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Petitions Filed in Favor, Against UPHS Library Book Challenges
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer
2022-02-09

            At least three residents have responded to a decision by a Marlborough Township resident's attempt to restrict student access to four books at the Upper Perkiomen High School library by starting petitions. Two oppose a request by Jennifer Beltz to remove them from circulation or require parental permission to read them.

            One supports the proposal. Jessica Gallagher, who ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign for the school board last fall, started a petition under the title "Parents Against Sexually Explicit Books for Children." She claims the dissemination of sexual material to minors is a felony.

            "A lot of parents have expressed their concern with the books UPSD has in their libraries. We are asking that the books be removed or parental permission slips be given to the parents for those who allow their children to read such material," according to a statement posted on her petition's home page at change.org.

            Lizy Pierson and Spencer Coram-Deo have each started separate petitions in favor of keeping the four books that explore issues of race, sex and gender among children in the library and maintaining their current availability status.

            None are currently being used in any class curriculums, according to school board President Judith Maginnis.

            On Dec. 30, Beltz officially challenged "The Bluest Eye," "Beyond Magenta," "Out of the Darkness," and "All Boys Aren't Blue." She expressed hope that a committee of educators would create a policy giving parents the option to allow their children to access the books. She suggested that the district follow a similar practice that permits parents and guardians to allow the dissemination of student photos by newspapers.

            Pierson, a 2017 graduate of the district who organized the Upper Perkiomen United for Peace rally in June of 2020, described the creation of a policy to monitor access to the books, as unacceptable. She described that approach as analogous to removing it from the library.

            "Banning books has never been a good idea. Nazis ban books," said Pierson, who credited high school classmate Teresa Swartley for organizing the petition. "Just because a few parents do not want their kids to have access to them does not mean all kids should not have access."

            According to Pierson, parents who highlight a salacious portion from one of the books miss the value of the overall story. In high school, she read numerous books, including "To Kill a Mockingbird", "Catcher in the Rye" and "The Handmaid's Tale" – as well as the works of Shakespeare and Kurt Vonnegut – that contain rape, violence, suicide, murder, and other graphic content.

            On Sunday night, Gallagher claimed with certainty that the district was guilty of disseminating pornography to students. In a social media instant message, she pasted the language from a Pennsylvania criminal statute.

           According to Gallagher, district officials violated PA Criminal Law Title 18 § 5903, which forbids the knowing dissemination "by sale, loan or otherwise explicit sexual materials to a minor." It defines "explicit sexual materials" as any book, pamphlet, magazine, printed matter or sound recording – deemed to be obscene – that depicts an image or a portion of the human body which depicts nudity, sexual conduct, or sadomasochistic abuse and which is harmful to minors.

            "You're a reporter. Can you not understand what the law says?" Gallagher wrote in a message received at 9:04 p.m. "This means that anyone who disseminates the mentioned material above to minors is IN FACT breaking the law. Are we that far gone that the laws are now subjective? Last I checked laws are objective and can't be based on opinions. That's a fact."

             However, Melissa Bevan Melewsky, media law counsel for the PA NewsMedia Association, described that reading of the law as misinformed.  According to Melewsky, the statute does not apply to school libraries and a host of other organizations.

            "The first rule of understanding a law is reading it completely," the attorney wrote in an email message received Monday morning. "[Gallagher] needs to read the entire law before she comes to an opinion on its applicability, and that apparently hasn't happened. I've attached it for convenience."

            Section (j) of the law, titled exemptions, states that "nothing in this section shall apply to any recognized historical society or museum accorded charitable status by the Federal Government, any county, city, borough, township or town library, any public library, any library of any school, college or university or any archive or library under the supervision and control of the Commonwealth or a political subdivision."


 

 

 

 

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