Virginia School Board Bans ‘Sexually Explicit’ Books, Threatens to Burn Them

A school board in Virginia has voted to start pulling pulling “sexually explicit” books off of high school library shelves, with some board members suggesting that they hold a book burning.

The Spotsylvania County School Board voted 6–0 to remove “objectionable” materials from Riverbend High School’s library, after parents complained about LGBTQIA content available on the school’s digital library app. The vote happened at a contentious November 8 school board meeting. The news was first reported by the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.

During that board meeting, the mother of a student complained that the LGBTQ books section was too prominent in the app, which is essentially a search tool for books available in the high school’s library. The woman said she was on the app “by accident” and that it is “pushing all the kids in that direction,” and that the book Call Me By Your Name was inappropriate for high schoolers. She also cites 33 Snowfish, a book about homelessless, survival sex work, and abuse, as being inappropriate for minors.

“There are some bad, evil-related material that we have to be careful of and look at”

The woman also said in the meeting that there are 16 results in the app for “pedophilia,” which elicits a gasp from the audience. A search for “Jesus” returns 19 results, she says, “but half of them are about Muslims.” She says there are “CRT,” meaning “critical race theory,” books in the library that are “anti-police.” When she’s finished speaking, several board members interrupt the meeting with a motion to ban the books on the spot—without establishing what, exactly, they are banning. The meeting was stopped for about 10 minutes while the board discussed what steps they would need to take to suspend the meeting’s established agenda in order to take immediate action about these books; eventually they decided to handle it at the end of the meeting, above the objections of several board members who said it was an urgent matter that needed to be dealt with immediately.

Before the vote, school board representative Kirk Twigg said that they should keep the books “in the back, so parents can see that we are doing something about this, we are eradicating a problem area that has much complacency and problem at the administrative level.” 

“I don’t think we should even see them, I think they should be thrown in a fire,” another school board member, Rabih Abuismail replied. He also said that public schools “would rather have our kids reading gay pornography than about Christ.”

“Let’s go back to the basics of math, english, and history rather than pedophilia in our schools,” he added.

The board voted to start removing books before a screening criteria was established. 

School board meetings have become the chosen platform for communities to air their wildest culture-war theories: in the last few months alone, there has been violence against staff during discussions about mask mandates and the COVID-19 pandemic in schools, and one board moved their meetings entirely online after community members became too unruly to meet in person.  

Libraries, too, have long been a frontline for battles between community members who want to see “explicit” books banned, and librarians who are attempting to serve communities without censorship. One such case, at the Loudoun County, Virginia public library in 1998, set a legal precedent when a judge deemed the installation of internet filters that banned sexually explicit websites as unconstitutional. 

Before voting yes to the book ban, Twigg commented that he’d like to see the definition of objectionable materials widened beyond the sexual explicit. “There are some bad, evil-related material that we have to be careful of and look at,” Twigg said, without explaining what constitutes bad or evil. 

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