Board votes to remove book from high school library

The school board voted to remove a book about transgender teens from the high school library during a special school board meeting held Thursday.

The book, "Beyond Magenta" by Susan Kuklin, talks about the experiences and lives of transgender teens. The board voted 3-2to remove the book from the high school's library.

Three parents learned the book was in the library at the high school and filed a formal complaint to have the book removed because of some parts the parents found inappropriate, according to Superintendent Jody Wiggins.

On Dec. 17, a committee of seven voting members convened to hear the complaints regarding the book, according to a report by the committee.

After hearing the complaints, the committee considered the book in its entirety not taking selected portions out of context, the report states.

The majority of the committee voted that the book meets the criteria and should remain in the library, the report states.

There was lengthy discussion by the committee that while this book contains graphic language and sexual situations it does not preclude the book as a whole from having educational value nor does it change that fact that it does meet the selection criteria, the report states.

After the three parents received the news they decided to appeal to the school board, Wiggins said.

"I am very appreciative to the committee members of the high school that served on that seven-person committee," Wiggins said. "They have taken a lot of heat on social media and in the community and to me that's a shame because they were doing their job and they did exactly what they were asked to do."

"Beyond Magenta" has been in the high school library since 2014 and has been checked out once in 2016, Wiggins said.

The school board acknowledged the book has some lessons to impart but was not sure it should be accessible to everyone.

Travis Jackson, a member of the school board and legislative liaison, asked Wiggins if there was any criteria for removing books from the shelves if they are not checked out for a certain amount of time.

Wiggins said he doesn't know if there is a formal procedure for that. Wiggins also said books are reviewed annually to see if they are battered and need to be removed, and there have been talks about establishing a more formal criteria related to the number of check outs.

Board member Misti Stephens asked if one of the complaintants had a child who checked out the book. Wiggins responded with a no. Wiggins believes of the three complaintants one has a child in the high school while the other two have children in the middle school.

Grant Loyd, a board member and secretary for the board, said he went through the book and the questionable parts of the book and while it is something that he doesn't necessarily "go with" Loyd said there is a place for it but not necessarily on the school's library shelves.

He recommended the book be placed with a counselor who could use the book to help those experiencing these issues, he said.

"Let's face it, these problems exist in our schools in Siloam Springs and they're not caused by this book being on our library shelves for the last eight years," Loyd said. "This book isn't the cause of it, but I still don't feel like I can support having it on the shelf to be read. I think it needs to be in a controlled environment through a counselor to help someone."

Loyd also denounced the social media backlash the committee members experienced as well as the posting of the names of the committee members on Facebook by one of the parents.

Stephens said there are lessons in the book.

"The whole thing is school is about getting different points of view, different perspectives so that the kids will think through some of the things they have concern and issue with," Stephens said. "We know there are kids dealing with these issues so I believe they should have access to it."

Stephens also pointed out that it was professionally done with interviews and the excerpts people had issues with were not graphic. What Stephens really liked is that the book shows the teens in question going through counseling and dealing with family and friends.

She also said just because the book is on the library shelves at the school doesn't mean the school system supports the topics of the book.

Jackson also said he doesn't see a reason to remove it for the content and that there are other lifestyles and things kids struggle with. But there were two things in the book that bothered Jackson, he said.

The two points were actually two sentences that dealt with some sexually explicit language used by one of the teens during an interview with the author involving the description of something the teen enjoyed doing and the teen's age when they began, Jackson said.

A final point made by Jackson was if the book is removed, then it should be replaced by another book that is either by the author or similar view point but does not use the same language as the book removed.

Following discussion by the school board, Stephens made a motion to keep the book which was seconded by Board Vice President Audra Farrell. The motion was disapproved by a vote of 3-2.