The Escondido Union School District has removed two of the most challenged books in the U.S. from campus libraries following an early October audit to seek out and remove any age-appropriate material from its collections.
The district closed libraries at all 23 of its elementary and middle school campuses in late September after a book “containing sexually explicit material” was found in one of its campus libraries. Library services were cut off until Oct. 6 after library technicians could conduct a “thorough audit” of its collections.
Following the audit, the district removed the alleged sexually explicit book, “This Book Is Gay,” a non-fiction book by Juno Dawson, who described the book as a guide for life as a person identifying within the LGBTQ spectrum.
According to Amazon.com, the book is rated for ages 14 to 17.
The book audit and subsequent removal of “This Book is Gay” stemmed from a district parent’s concerned statements to the board on Sept. 21 after her son found the book in the Bear Valley Middle School library in mid-September.
Anne White recalled how her 13-year-old son found the book when his eighth-grade class went to the school library. Later that night, he told his mother, who also works for the district, about the book.
“I was utterly disgusted and saddened that my son was exposed to this type of explicit, pornographic material,” White said. “I demand that all this and all other books be banned from school libraries.”
White noted that although some community members may argue freedom of speech when it comes to accessing the book in school libraries, she felt the book “canceled the rights of these young children to be children.”
White also noted that the book goes “directly against our Christian beliefs as a family” and her right as a parent to guide her child.
The district agreed that the book was “clearly inappropriate for a school library.”
The audit also removed “Looking for Alaska,” a coming-of-age novel by John Green, who also wrote “The Fault in Our Stars.” The book is rated best for ages 14 and older, though some opinions vary.
Both “This Book is Gay” and “Looking for Alaska” are among the nation’s top 13 banned books due to complaints regarding their alleged sexually explicit details and LGBTQ content.
According to the district, the school library technicians conducted the audit in consultation with the Certificated Librarian of Record from the San Diego County Office of Education and are currently working to improve its library collection processing to prevent a similar situation with another book in the future.
“We have a duty and responsibility to ensure that the books we purchase for our students are age-appropriate,” said Superintendent Luis Rankins-Ibarra.
Although the district maintained that its corrective measures to remove the book from the library and begin an audit of all libraries were consistent with the California Education Code, it appeared to go against its own policy of forming a 12-member committee consisting of parents and faculty to recommend how to approach a questioned book to the board.
“Closing the school libraries district-wide for an audit is nowhere in the policies,” said parent Juan Vargas at the following Oct. 12 meeting. “This impacted the voice of other parents and staff to come together as a community to make this decision together.”