Challenged book to remain on library shelves

by Judy Stringer

May 9 board of education meeting

The graphic novel “Gender Queer: A Memoir” will remain in Hudson High School’s library circulation after the Hudson Board of Education voted to affirm Interim Superintendent Steve Farnsworth’s Feb. 25 recommendation to retain the title.

The district has been reviewing “Gender Queer” for several months, according to Farnsworth, following a formal “reconsideration of material” request filed by a high school parent earlier this year. He recommended keeping the text on library shelves on Feb. 25, citing findings from a seven-member review committee.

“The review committee found that though the book contains sexually explicit content, they also recognize that the book was a valuable resource and could have a meaningful impact on the reader and for any student or individual who may be undergoing similar circumstances,” Farnsworth told the board on May 9.

He admitted it was a “difficult decision to make” as he is “not necessarily a strong proponent of this particular book.” But in multiple meetings with high school counselors, social workers and media specialists, Farnsworth said he consistently heard that “Gender Queer” meets “the needs of certain students in our building.”

“I am an unabashed proponent of our professional staff. I trust their professionalism. I trust their commitment to our kids,” he said.

The Feb. 25 recommendation also suggested the district provide information within the book to ensure students are aware of the resources available to them if they are experiencing similar thoughts or experiences, and give parents access to their student’s library account to monitor and discuss the content of checked-out materials.

On Feb. 26, however, a parent objecting to “Gender Queer” requested a meeting with the board itself, which took place on April 4.

“The parent was given as much time as she needed to express her position and opinions,” Farnworth said. “The board asked clarifying questions and listened respectfully.”

At the May 9 meeting, about a dozen people spoke during a comment period related to the book. The vast majority supported keeping the text, including a handful of Hudson High School students. The students said they felt high schoolers are mature enough to make their own decisions about library materials, with a few noting that this is not a required text and can provide valuable support to teens who are struggling with gender identity.

While the board was not required to take any action on the matter – in which case the book would remain – board members opted to draft a resolution affirming Farnsworth’s earlier recommendation. The resolution passed 4-0, with board member Tom Tobin absent.

Each of the present members expressed support for the recommendation.

“I can certainly understand and acknowledge the concerns expressed by people regarding the sexual content contained in the book. But as the committee recognized and as many have recognized this evening, the book contains educational value, and it provides students who may be struggling with their own gender identity a unique perspective and support,” said board Vice President Steve DiMauro.

Board President Dave Zuro said that book may also be a valuable resource to students “who aren’t necessarily experiencing those struggles but have friends who are.”

“It’s probably a bigger student population than we might [have] guessed who benefit from reading the book,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Doreen Osmun said a link on the high school media center’s website will connect parents to a Google Form, which they can complete to get access to their student’s library account.

Other business

In other meeting news, the board approved a three-year renewal of Treasurer Phil Butto’s contract. DiMauro said the contract reflects “a roughly 3% [salary] increase” and a contribution toward an annuity.

Farnsworth stated that he will provide an update on the 1927 building, part of the former middle school, during a special board meeting on Thursday, May 19. ∞