YORK, Maine — A score of local librarians and parents arrived in full force to the town School Committee meeting Wednesday, Dec. 1, to oppose an attempt to have a book removed from the York Middle School library.
The request to remove “It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health” by author Robie Harris came Nov. 22 from a person who does not have children in the town's school system, Superintendent Lou Goscinski said Monday.
No student had checked out the book in four years, Goscinski said.
Although proponents and opponents of the book's removal each had expressed plans to attend the meeting, just one group's message dominated public comments: those who wanted the book to stay.
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York Public Library Director Michelle Sampson and several other library officials pleaded with school committee members and Goscinski to keep this book and others on YMS library shelves.
"Like adults, children and teens have the right to find the information they choose to look for," Sampson said. "Libraries have a responsibility to provide information for a wide variety of users."
Sampson said she believes parents have a right and responsibility to make decisions about what materials are suitable for their children; however, no one should have the right to restrict what informational materials other people use.
"If students don't have access to information, if they're embarrassed to ask their parents, if parents are embarrassed to talk to them, where do you think kids get their information?" Sampson said. "I can assure you they will get it, and it may or may not resemble fact, which may or may not have consequences."
During the public comment portion of the meeting, not a single person voiced support for removing the book, nor did anyone bring signs with excerpts from the book, as Goscinski said Tuesday he had been told to expect.
Requestor: Parents can get this book elsewhere
York resident Patsy Howell Huntsman said in a social media post that she filed the formal request to remove the book from the YMS library, and Goscinski confirmed that the request came from Huntsman.
"I am all for sex education," Huntsman wrote. "We certainly need it now more than ever. But, at 10 years old the subject matter in the book 'It’s Perfectly Normal' should be left to a parent’s decision not public schools."
"If a parent wants to use this book it is available to purchase online or in York at the public library," she added.
Goscinski said the York School Department fulfilled an earlier request for a catalogue of about 35,000 books belonging to the department. He declined to disclose the name of the parent who requested the full catalogue, but he said it wasn't the same person who had requested that "It's Perfectly Normal" be removed.
Goscinski said this request for removal was the first that he has received.
The American Library Association listed "It's Perfectly Normal" in its annual Top 10 Most Challenged Books list in 2014, 2007, 2005 and 2003. The Office for Intellectual Freedom compiles the list to inform the public about censorship in libraries and schools, according to the organization's website.
Candlewick Press, the publisher of “It’s Perfectly Normal,” describes the book as an expert-vetted resource for more than 25 years on sexuality that’s appropriate for all readers. The most recent edition is described as more “inclusive and accessible" and was published in May 2021, according to Candlewick Press.
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YMS student Evelyn Adelson, 10, and her parent, Shea Adelson, who serves as vice president of the York Public Library Board of Trustees, shared their views on the book's possible removal.
"I'm in fifth grade, and I feel that I should have the right to read a book if I want to read a book, of course if it's approved by my parents first," Evelyn said. "I definitely do not want a person I don't know telling me what I can't read. I also think kids should learn from these kinds of books, so that they're prepared for the world."
The school committee is responsible for all matters relating to the provision of instructional materials and maintenance of resources that support the school system’s curriculum, according to York School Committee policy. If a complaint is made, committee policy requires a review of the material. Students, parents, school staff and community members who object to instructional and library materials are allowed to challenge the material under the policy.
Because the matter was not resolved on an administrative level, the policy requires that a superintendent appoint a review committee composed of the YMS principal, one librarian or media specialist, one classroom teacher and the department head in the subject area of the challenged materials. Goscinski will then make a decision based on the committee's recommendation, which Goscinski said he could announce as soon as Monday, Dec. 6.
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Author: Many librarians have defended my work
Harris, the author, said Tuesday, Nov. 30, that her book has been a source of controversy since its inception in 1994, and that she fields calls almost every week for inquiries from various media outlets, libraries and schools. In recent years, the book has come under even more scrutiny, which Harris attributes to an increasingly organized conservative effort to censor freedom of knowledge and speech.
Whenever there's an incident where her book is challenged, Harris said she remembers why she wrote it in the first place. For nearly three decades, she said she's spoken with and seen firsthand how librarians and school administrators have been harassed and threatened for providing her book. Although she feels terrible for the people who experience backlash, she said she is reminded of why she wrote it.
One incident that has stayed with Harris occurred during a speaking engagement at the Vermont Public Library Association. During Harris' speech, a librarian stood up to share that someone had stolen Harris' book several times.
"Things like that happen all the time," Harris said.
Librarians would often donate this book to their libraries out of their own pockets, Harris said. In this particular instance, the book kept disappearing at the hands of one person. The librarian said she kept replacing the book until she could no longer afford to do so.
The librarian never confronted the person, but a year later, the book was returned in a brown paper bag on the steps of the library with a note from the person who stole the book.
"He said, 'I'm returning this book because I was wrong ... my 13-year-old niece is pregnant and is going to have a baby. Had she had this book, this would not have happened. Every child deserves to have this book if it's a book they choose to have,' " Harris recalled. "I thought that was really quite terrific of the librarian because she didn't chastise him, she didn't say who he was, but she knew."
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Effort to pull 'It’s Perfectly Normal' from ME school library opposed