Angry Bristol parents demand school board remove explicit books

Residents demand the removal of books with sexually explicit content at the March 11 meeting of the Newfound Area School Board. 

Residents demand the removal of books with sexually explicit content at the March 11 meeting of the Newfound Area School Board.  Tom Caldwell / For The Laconia Daily Sun


For The Laconia Daily Sun

Published: 03-19-2024 5:34 PM

An angry and unruly crowd confronted the Newfound Area School Board on March 11 over alleged licentious policy decisions that made sexually explicit reading material available to students. Demanding the school board immediately remove those books from the school library, they quoted directly from the controversial “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, “Looking For Alaska” by John Green, and “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe.

One parent told the board they had adopted a Ukrainian child from an abusive family, believing she would be safe in America, but instead, “they’re getting introduced to this filth.”

“When you allow negative material into a school, it is your fault,” she said. “You put it there, you allowed it there. And I’m not talking about gay content. I’m talking about the sexual content. I have gay children, so that’s not even a problem. Kids should not be watching this, reading this, or looking at this. This needs to be taken care of right away.”

“All Boys Aren’t Blue” is a series of personal essays describing Johnson’s childhood and adolescence growing up as a gay Black man. It has been challenged for LGBTQIA+ content, profanity and sexually explicit content.

“Looking For Alaska,” a young adult novel described as a “stunning look at friendship, love, and life,” contains scenes of drug use, hazing, and sexually explicit encounters.

“Gender Queer,” described as “a useful and touching guide on gender identity — what it means and how to think about it — for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere,” has been criticized for LGBTQIA+ content and sexually explicit images.

Gary Phillips of Bristol asked board members whether they were aware that such explicit material was in the school library and asked, “If you’re aware of it, why haven’t you done anything to remove them from the library?”

Attempting to let everyone have a chance to speak, Chair Melissa Suckling stopped Groton school board candidate William Jolly from stepping forward a second time, prompting a woman to shout, “Why are you doing this to us?”

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Another woman refused to identify herself and stood defiantly before the board, with others saying, “That’s exactly what you’re doing to us.”

Current board policy allows public comment “without expectation of a response” which residents interpret as a refusal to answer their concerns.

New Hampton board member Nate Saler later said, “The point of public comment is for us to hear the public, right? I think we hear you; we are listening. I’m writing down comments ... we’re hearing what the public has to say. It’s not that we’re ignoring; we’re listening, we’re taking in input to see how we should act in the future.”

Mika Austin, the student representative to the school board, addressed some of those concerns as well as complaints about the intrusive questions on the student risk assessment.

“It’s voluntary,” she said of the assessment. “It is anonymous. And it’s really great to hear that it’s going to be extended to the middle school because — these are very invasive questions, but, like, kids in sixth grade are having sex, and you can’t just ignore that. And you can’t just ignore that I’m the only person in this room who knows what it’s like to be in school right now, what it was like in middle school, elementary school just a couple of years ago.

“Yes, social media has played a very big role in that, but you can’t just, like, ignore it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. The best way to deal with it is to educate our students on what the risks are, and what the dangers of all that is.”

She continued, “I know many people my age who are victims of sexual abuse at some point in their lives, and things like ‘Looking For Alaska’ or ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue,’ like those pornographic scenes? They’re not what the book is about. They’re just a very small piece of the book, and also, they’re very, very healthy examples of communicative sex, which is important, and also shows kids who don’t know what healthy relationships look like in their life. Because, you know, at home, a lot of students here at Newfound do not know what healthy communication looks like, and they aren’t in an environment where they can go to a trusted adult at home and, instead, they have teachers here at school that have to be that trusted adult.”

A woman shouting, “You’re proving our point,” elicited a reprimand from Suckling, who chastised her, “Please be respectful.”

Austin finished by saying, “Trying to restrict the liberty of other people’s children and what librarians and teachers deem appropriate for other children to read isn’t fair to those kids that aren’t yours, I guess. It’s very dystopian. It’d be going backwards.”

At the end of the meeting, Linda Phillips of Bristol challenged the board to “fill out the form to have those books pulled from the library.”