Schools appoint committee to review disputed book | News

Moore County Schools assembled a committee of parents and staff from across the district to decide whether a highly detailed novel about a young transgender girl should remain on school shelves.

Staff at McDeeds Creek Elementary and Union Pines High reviewed Alex Gino’s “George” in response to a complaint filed in December. Both committees — the McDeeds Creek one also included two parents — championed the place of the book in their media centers.

This recommendation will now be considered by a 17-member Media and Technology Advisory Committee led by Mike Metcalf, the district’s acting officer for academics and student support services. The school board unanimously approved the composition of this committee as recommended by the administrators during a special meeting on Thursday.

The committee is expected to work over the next month to review the novel and school-level reports, then provide its own recommendation in time for the board to consider in March.

The school board has final authority in supporting or rejecting a challenge to books or other school materials.

“It’s your ultimate decision, as a council, on what you want to do with the recommendation,” Acting Superintendent Tim Locklair said.

“I want to thank our staff for their work working on board policy, and I want to thank this committee of media experts, teachers, school administrators, principals, teachers, parents, members of the community and a student who agreed to go beyond. … These are people who, again, are working on the policy and are prepared to look at that request and that objection and come back with a report and a recommendation.

Council member Robert Levy suggested that the district may need a “simplified process” and that the procedure outlined in school board policy may prove too onerous to be practical if the district ends up falling under challenges for several books.

“I don’t know how it works with the law and such, but if we were to have five or six challenges for five or six program elements, it would overwhelm us, so I’m a little surprised at the complexity. of all of this,” Levy said. “I may not agree with the first assessment, but it is quite comprehensive.”

Carthage resident Jim Pedersen filed the original lawsuit challenging the suitability of “George” as school reading material. He has now appealed to the district for high-level review of both schools’ recommendations. Pedersen has no children enrolled in either school.

Her first survey of Moore County school board members was about “George,” along with two other novels dealing with sexuality and transgender issues. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson called on local school districts to ban all three in a Facebook video last fall.

The other two books, “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy”, were not found in any classroom or library in the district. “George”, although available at two schools, is not required reading.

“George” was published in 2015 by Scholastic. The publisher recommends it for readers aged 8 to 12. The novel follows a fourth grade student who identifies as a girl named Melissa and hatches a plan to portray the title character in a school production of “Charlotte’s Web”.

McDeeds Creek purchased the book for inclusion in its media center when the school opened in 2019. Union Pines added it to the collection last April.

Committees meeting at both schools signaled to the district that they wanted to keep “George” on the shelves as part of a catalog of materials compiled to appeal to a range of student interests, represent diverse communities, and feature all aspects of controversial issues. They also said that the novel’s anti-bullying and self-discovery themes provide positive value.

Reviewers of the book, including board member Philip Holmes, point to things like the novel’s description of genitalia, mention of “dirty magazines” and a character’s crude allusion to an operation. sex change to support their claims that it is inappropriate for young children.

“The only reason anyone would want to introduce children to internet pornography and clear their browser after searching the internet is because they are a pedophile who wants to groom young children,” wrote Pedersen in his most recent complaint.

School board policies describe how the district deals with challenges related to “teaching resources,” including books, used or otherwise available in Moore County schools. With a challenge to school-level decisions to keep “George” in place, the next step in that process is a district-level review.

In addition to Metcalf, the committee that will conduct this review includes principals Jenny Purvis of North Moore High, Melonie Jones of Crains Creek Middle and Shaun Krencicki of West End Elementary, three media specialists, one teacher each from Pinecrest, New Century Middle and West End Elementary, five parents, two with students in Union Pines and McDeeds Creek, and a senior from Pinecrest.

“With parent representation, we felt we needed to go a step further and not necessarily have some of our parents who are regular part of the school advisory team or school improvement teams,” said Board Chair Pam Thompson. “We wanted to reach out to other parents who may not be as heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the school system.”

Trustees have recommended staff for the committee based in part on years of experience in their roles. Most have been teachers or media specialists for at least 20 years, and the three directors each spent more than a decade in the classroom before becoming administrators.

Metcalf said the three teachers recommended for the committee are certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, a valuable credential that takes at least a year to achieve. But the district encountered some reluctance when it came to recruiting teachers for the committee.

He said administrators worked “throughout the weekend” to finalize Monday’s slate.

“Frankly, we’ve had some of them pull out recently and we’ve had to encourage others to have the willingness to participate, so we really, really appreciate their willingness to participate on this particular committee,” Metcalf said.