By Charlotte McConnell, LCDC Member – November 9th, 2019 – At the start of this school year, LCPS unveiled its Diverse Classroom Library initiative. These books are not mandatory or apart of the core curriculum. They can be used in lessons if there is a direct tie to the subject matter. These books were selected by LCPS staff using the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Diversity Book List and Mackin’s Identity Inclusive Texts Rubric. This was done to ensure every student in LCPS has access to books that reflect their lived experiences.
Some of the books in the Diverse Classroom library have already been available to students in LCPS’s libraries. Offering them in the classroom gives students more choices for free reading. As students enter middle and high school, their interest in reading declines. Reasons for this are lack of time, preference for electronic devices like cell phones and gaming systems, and lack of choices in reading materials. Giving students easy access to books and more variety in the materials available to them can increase the amount of time students spend reading.
People have been giving public comment regarding these books over the past few months. There are people who object to profanity and depictions of sexual activity in these books. However, the biggest objection is over LGBTQ+ content. When you object to a book like Heather Has Two mommies, you are really objecting to same-sex marriage. The reality is there are students who attend LCPS who have same-sex parents and they do not see themselves included in our schools. There are students who attend LCPS who identify as LGBTQ+ and face bullying and are afraid to live their authentic lives. If you want to see a reduction in youth suicide, homelessness, teen pregnancies, and bullying, we must cultivate an LGBTQ+ inclusive and affirming environment in our schools.
There is a Loudoun based group that has been fanning the flames of this issue in the hope of influencing our school board elections. This group is being supported by Family Watch International, which promotes traditional marriage. The Southern Poverty law center has designated Family Watch International as a hate group because of it’s anti-LGBT views. Robocalls were made across our county claiming Democratic candidates for school board support pornography in our schools. On Nov. 5th, voters rejected this false narrative by electing 7 Democrats to the Loudoun County School Board. But that has not stopped the conversation around diverse books in our schools.
Some have argued that these books are available at the Loudoun County library and that should be sufficient. Our public library system is one of the reasons I love living in Loudoun. I recently participated in their Strategic Plan Community Retreat where I learned that our library has difficulty serving households with an annual income below $80k/year. They also fall short in serving people who are of middle and high school age. Other barriers to accessing our public library is lack of transportation and internet access.
We have heard from librarians and students how meaningful it has been to finally have books available in their school that mirror their own lived experiences. Some of these books have given students the language they need to discuss abuse that they have experienced or something they are struggling with and feel alone. These diverse books will also give students a window into lives that are different from their own which can increase empathy, compassion, and understanding.
The ACLU Virginia recently sent a letter to LCPS Superintendent Eric Williams and School Board Chairman Jeff Morse. In the letter, they said “The First Amendment does not allow the government to get rid of or limit the use of books or ideas because they are controversial, unpopular, or offensive. Purging certain books from school libraries because some parents do not like them is government action favoring the opinion of some parents over others. Passing judgments, applying labels, and red-flagging educational materials that might prompt uncomfortable but insightful discussions are activities that do not belong in our public schools. In fact, bending to the will of any number of vocal parents could lead to a narrower and narrower list of books for students to read on a more and more homogeneous set of topics, adversely affecting the rights of those students and parents who want a more expansive and inclusive reading list from which to choose.”
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