Book ban efforts reach Washoe County School District

Book ban efforts reach Washoe County School District

(Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash)

By Jannelle Calderón

June 27, 2024

Dozens of book ban advocates read explicit excerpts to the Washoe County School Board in an effort to get books they consider inappropriate banned from school libraries. 

The Washoe County School Board received fiery public comment on Tuesday when a group of book ban supporters accused the school board of “[permitting] vulgarity to be at the fingertips of children” through certain books that touch controversial topics or have explicit scenes. 

The board’s agenda did not contain any item on book curriculum that could have prompted the discussion, nor did any of the board members indicate they would take future action on book bans. But dozens of people filled the district board room, lobby, and an overflow room to talk during public comment, which lasted nearly two hours, according to the Reno Gazette Journal’s first report on the scene.

Some attendees read out-of-context, sexually suggestive excerpts of books they believe should not be available in schools, including John Green’s “Looking for Alaska” and Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho,” which pushed Board Vice President Adam Mayberry to recess the meeting twice when the commenters would not stop reading the passages.  

Victoria Myer, a long-time Washoe County resident and School Board candidate, said during the meeting that people defending the books are “protecting pornography and obscenity in the classrooms.”

“This is about porn. It’s not about the narcissistic [LGBTQ+] activists who think this is about them. It’s not about them. It’s about our kids. It’s about protecting our kids. It’s about obscenity that’s in the classrooms being read,” Myer said, despite some commenters arguing the books that touch on the LGBTQ+ community and gender identity are “indoctrinating” children. “And this is why they’re suicidal, because you’re putting garbage, you’re mentally raping their minds.”

Bri Schmidt, a program associate for Silver State Equality, which promotes civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community, said that out-of state “anti-LGBTQ extremists” — referring to North Carolina pastor, John Amanchukwu, and book ban activist who lives in Tennessee, Karen England, who were in attendance — are “creating this manufactured outrage about a system that already works for most of our students and families.”

“Our school district needs help. Our students need help. If the school district truly cares for their students, then you will not give in to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric when they ask you to sacrifice children’s lives,” Schmidt said. “Because by banning books and trying to reverse gender protective policies, that is what these anti-LGBTQ extremists are asking you to do — sacrifice LGBTQ students’ lives for the sake of their ideal world.” 

The recent call on the Washoe County School District trustees comes as part of a nationwide surge in efforts to censor or ban thousands of books. According to the American Library Association (ALA), more than 4,200 unique book titles in schools and libraries were challenged last year, a 65% increase compared to 2022, the highest levels ever documented. 

The right-wing group Moms for Liberty has been at the forefront of pushing for book bans in school libraries and classrooms. The group, which advocates for censorship in school curricula that mention LGBTQ rights or race and ethnicity, spans 48 states and  has endorsed candidates for Nevada’s county school board races this year in an effort to push their agenda from the inside. 

Debi Stears, who works in the Washoe County Library System and is a former school district librarian, said during the School Board meeting that she has read all 14 books being challenged in the school district and in the library system. She said that instead of finding the obscenity or pornography challengers claim, she found important life lessons teens should learn. 

“I read stories of young people grappling with life’s big issues. ‘What does it mean to try to achieve the American dream when you belong to an immigrant family? What kind of devastating consequences might come from making dangerous choices? How do I figure out who I am in the world?’” she said. “It is your responsibility to help students develop the skills needed to navigate the world they enter when they graduate. Reading provides a safe way for young people to explore the world around them and to begin to imagine their own place in the world.”

  • Jannelle Calderón

    Jannelle Calderón is a bilingual politics and community multimedia reporter with a passion to highlight the human side to policy and issues as well as showcasing the vibrant cultures found in Southern Nevada. She previously reported for The Nevada Independent and graduated from UNLV.

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