Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, Florida, recently removed the frequently-banned graphic novel, Gender Queer, from school library shelves. It appears that the District did not follow its book challenge procedures in this case. The complaint about the book was brought directly to the Board, rather than being filed at the school level, as is the norm. NCAC and several partner organizations have written to the District to urge them to return Gender Queer to library shelves until it can be properly reviewed.
Gender Queer is an award-winning memoir written in graphic novel form by Maia Kobabe, a non-binary author and illustrator, about Kobabe’s experience of adolescence. It has become one of those most challenged books of 2021, as a wave of book challenges and removals sweep school districts across the country.
NCAC is urging Orange County district officials to amend their procedures to ensure that all challenges are addressed pursuant to District regulations. Book challenges are often highly contentious and emotional, and the District’s regulations are well crafted to ensure that all parties feel that they have been heard and respected, and also to ensure that decisions are made based on objective criteria which focus on the needs of students. For example, the regulations provide that a committee of educational professionals initially review the challenged work; that an appeal of that committee’s recommendation be made to a diverse committee of both professionals and laypersons; and that the committee must “consider the educational philosophy of the school district, the professional opinions of other teachers of the same subject and of other competent authorities, reviews of the materials by reputable bodies, the teacher’s own stated objectives in using the materials and the objections of the complainant.” By exempting certain challenges from the District’s regulations, the District has deprived itself, and its students, of the advantages of this very sound policy.
A library, including a school library, is meant to include a broad selection of books that provide value to students, even if every book does not appeal to every student. Gender Queer clearly has value for many students, especially “those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand,” as noted by the School Library Journal. By exempting Gender Queer from the standard procedures, the District raises the suspicion that the removal of the book was motivated by hostility to the book’s position on gender nonconformity. Had the district’s regulations been followed, the District might have decided that, on balance, the needs of its students are best served by retaining Gender Queer on library shelves.
Read the full letter to the school district below. Click here for a full screen view: