ORR has been asked to ban several books on gender and racial topics

ROCHESTER – Several books are being reviewed for banning from the Old Rochester Regional High School and Middle School libraries after complaints were filed about them, the Old Rochester Regional School District Superintendent confirmed, Michael Nelson.

“The school district recently received objections to particular books in our high school and middle school libraries. Accordingly, we are following our complaint process to review the material,” Nelson wrote in an email response to The standard times. “The school district is committed to following current policy regarding this matter and will make all decisions in accordance with our current procedures.

“As always – our primary goal is to provide staff and students with a wide range of educational materials at all levels and in a variety of formats, with a diversity of appeals, allowing the presentation of many different viewpoints. None other information is not available at this time.”

Although Nelson did not specify which books were included in the complaints, an 11th grade high school student said that a handful of students were told about the situation and the books in question, all of which focused on sex, sexuality or race. the subjects. According to ORRHS junior Alia Cusolito, these are: “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson,” Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin and “Flamer” by Mike Curato.

“I was a little surprised but not very surprised. These are the kinds of things that are happening all over the country,” Cusolito, 17, said. “I don’t think a lot of students know this yet, but some of us have heard about it. My friends and other people in the GSA (Gender Sexuality Alliance) club at school are all affected by this. “

ORR one of many similar cases

A list compiled by the American Library Association of the 10 most disputed books of 2021 includes nearly every title Cusolito listed except “Flamer.”

Cusolito, a Rochester resident, expressed concern over the proposed banning of said books, believing they have the potential to broaden the perspectives of his classmates and elicit deeper levels of understanding from individuals often misunderstood.

Cusolito is one of them.

“I’m not binary; I use these pronouns. Usually I just say I’m queer,” Cusolito said. “There are a lot of aspects of my identity…but I generally use it as an umbrella for things that apply to me.”

Cusolito — who is president of the GSA club at ORRHS — says students from the LGBTQ community or who identify in ways considered non-traditional are often bullied at school.

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“It’s gotten better in general, but we get a lot of bullying at school, and now there’s this weird thing going on where junior high students…have been really, really awful and say really bad things to us. dehumanizing and terrible directly on our faces,” Cusolito said. “So I’m worried, especially with the younger ones. Thinking back to when I was in college, we faced some things but it’s never been more serious.”

Why ban these books?

According to the ALA, “Gender Queer” – the book that Cusolito says causes the most controversy – has often been challenged for “LGBTQIA+ content, and because it was considered to contain sexually explicit images”. Cusolito said it’s difficult to understand that logic in context with other materials students are exposed to both in and out of school.

“There are so many other books and films that we are shown at school – and I wouldn’t want to name them so they wouldn’t be attacked either – … that are more self-explanatory than these books” , Cusolito said. said. “Those who are being targeted are those with weird characters or when the main character is a person of color, and that shows their problem is with the characters and not the actual content.

“There’s so much on the internet, I guarantee everyone in high school has seen so much worse, so to get that kind of stuff out of your school library, into a place where you can then have adults and resources to talk to if you need anything, I’d much rather people get that at school than anywhere else.”

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Read representation

For Cusolito, books about LGBTQ characters are more than reading material.

“I know personally at least, and from what I’ve heard from so many other people, we never get any mention of LGBTQ people in any of our school curricula or books we read for class and things like that, so just having access to those books in the library can be really important for people to feel empowered to exist and feel represented,” Cusolito said. “And sometimes if I try to talk to someone one and make him understand what i went through he will be a little defensive or uncomfortable…but when you read it in a book there is no one to judge you so you can all assimilate, and you really get into the spirit of that character.”

Tri-city against racism

Members of the Tri-Town Against Racism, or TTAR, group agree that representation in literature is important and are actively trying to promote it in the schools and towns of Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester by collecting donated books and donating them to ORR. six district schools, as well as Little Free Diverse Library boxes in Marion and Mattapoisett – with all selections organized by age and with a focus on character and theme diversity.

The effort, known as Tangi’s Drive for Diverse Books, is named after the TTAR member who came up with the idea, Marion, a native of Tangi Thomas, currently a New Bedford resident.

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“Growing up at Marion, I never had the selection we have now,” Thomas said. “I wanted my kids to be able to see themselves when they select a book of their choice, like all the other kids in Tri-Town.”

Thomas – who said she found the book ban proposal “shattering” – also noted that one of the selections Cusolito listed, “The Hate U Give”, is a title that was given to schools by TTAR.

“My kids and I love the movie,” Thomas said, calling the story “eye-opening.”

According to the ALA, “The Hate U Give” – ​​about the experience of a black high school student who witnessed the police shooting of her friend – has often been challenged for “blasphemy, violence and because that it was meant to promote an anti-police message and indoctrination of a social agenda.”

TTAR member Susan Pizzolato, who retired as director of the Mattapoisett Free Public Library in 2020, explained the book vetting process the group engages with the school department. She is currently in charge of managing the collection of books.

“These books are from reputable publishers — they’re not random. They’ve been reviewed by professional resources and meet certain criteria,” Pizzolato said, noting that she’s currently putting together the book collections of this year to propose the schools. “Any books they deem inappropriate, we ask them to return them to us.”

Speculations on the results

Regarding the proposed book ban, Pizzolato said, “I’m sure the school district will be professional in how they handle the process.”

On Tuesday, Rhonda Baptiste, director of community engagement at TARR and parent of an ORR middle school student, said The standard times that discussion of the proposed ban on books in middle and high school libraries would be on the agenda of the TTAR board for its meeting on Wednesday.

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“We passionately believe that representation is of the utmost importance and that all children should have access to books with stories they identify with,” Baptiste said in a written statement. “We hope our administration feels the same…”

Ultimately, Pizzolato — knowing a thing or two about book bans from his experience as a librarian — says anyone asking for books to be banned from ORR’s two school libraries may be unhappy with the end result, which his efforts be successful or not.

“Most research has proven, through the ALA, that banning books always draws attention to books instead of taking them out of people’s hands,” she said.

Superintendent Nelson did not respond to questions about the district’s complaint review procedures in his response to The standard times tuesday. The next meeting of the Old Rochester Regional School Committee is scheduled for October 19th.

To donate books to Tangi’s Drive for Diverse Books, send them to: TTAR, PO Box 271 Marion, MA 02738. The book drive’s Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/tangisdrivefordiversebooks. For more information about Tri-Town Against Racism, visit www.tritownagainstracism.org.

Residents are seen gathered around the small, free and diverse Tri-Town Against Racism library at Ned's Point in Mattapoisett.  TARR members say the library boxes, containing selections of books chosen to reflect as much diversity as possible, are one way they work to make diverse reading materials available.  A discussion of the proposed banning of several books from Old Rochester High School and junior high libraries was on the agenda for Wednesday's TARR meeting on Tuesday, group member Rhonda Baptiste said. and resident of Rochester.

Various small free libraries: where are they?

Tri-Town Against Racism currently has two locations in the Little Free Diverse Library:

  • Old Landing, Marion

  • Ned’s Point, Mattapoisett

Look for freestanding house-shaped boxes on wooden posts, with the words “Little Free Diverse Library” on them. The boxes remain unlocked and members of the public are welcome to borrow or bring books from them at any time. The group plans to set up a third somewhere in Rochester.

About Stuart M. McFarland

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