“When you ban literature, you are banning the perspective of another person.”
These were the words of Thailand Griffith, an 11th grader at West Hall High School and a self-described poet, who spoke against book banning at the Hall County school board meeting Monday evening.
On Friday, Superintendent Will Schofield sent an email to parents, staff and school board members alerting them of the possibility that Monday’s meeting might draw a crowd of parents who aren’t happy about what their children are reading.
He later said in an interview that while he holds parents’ rights as “sacred,” becoming the “book police” could set “a mighty dangerous precedent.”
The meeting was packed, and extra chairs were brought in to accommodate all of the attendees.
The roster of 14 speakers was split evenly between those who protested the “trash” assigned to their children, and those who said that often the books others deem obscene reveal “uncomfortable truths that promote important conversations.”
Angie Parson spoke against “Eleanor & Park,” a book assigned to her ninth grade son. The young adult novel follows two 16-year-olds, a red-headed girl named Eleanor and a half-Korean boy named Park, who fall in love after meeting on the school bus and finding shared interests.
“I was shocked by the language and sexual content of the book,” Parsons said. “I felt incredibly disrespected that this could have been secretly slipped to my child.”
But a mother who spoke after Parsons put the onus on parents, saying “that’s your fault.” It is the responsibility of parents, she said, to know what their kids are reading and what they’re up to. Furthermore, she added, what students say in the halls is often much more vulgar than what they read in the classroom.
“Our priorities are a little mixed up,” she said.
At the start of the meeting, Schofield read the system’s six guiding principles on how it curates instructional materials. One doubled down on the “school-level process” of selecting materials, suggesting the district will not come up with a list of banned books. But it also upheld a parent’s right to “challenge instructional material” and the “right to contact their child’s teacher to provide alternate readings or assignments.”
Parent Blake Cantrell took issue with the latter part of this principle, however, arguing that alternative assignments “isolate” children and make them more prone to bullying. Certain books shouldn’t be assigned in the first place, he said, and the fact that they are is “not acceptable.”
“I trust my Hall County educators,” said Claire Duignan. She said “banning books never works,” and noted that parents have plenty of control over what their children read.
Jeremy Parsons and a couple other parents said they are not for banning books in the library but objected to them being assigned.
If they were movies, Parsons said, “these books would be rated R.”
“This type of trash will not help us grow,” said Karla Lee.
Traci Costilow spoke against book banning and took issue with a point Schofield made in his email last Friday, wherein he said the district will “create a process to provide additional staff development to our media specialists regarding the purchasing of appropriate material.”
Media specialists are already doing a fine job, she said, and don’t need additional development. “A book is never placed on the shelf lightly,” she said.
After citizen input, Nath Morris, vice chair of the school board, commended everyone for remaining civil.