Kent School Board votes to reject LGBTQ book ban decision

Multiple board members mentioned a need for policy changes in the book challenge process.

During a special meeting on June 29, the Kent School Board voted to reject a special committee’s decision to remove a book from the Cedar Height Middle School library.

The book in question, “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)” by L.C. Rosen, was originally removed from the library by administrators after a student raised concerns about the sexually explicit content and situations within the book. Many community members rallied to defend the book out of concern that administrators were unilaterally removing a book that notably featured LGBTQ characters and themes.

The school board moved to place the book under review by the Instructional Materials Committee, a committee that is typically used to evaluate the appropriateness of curriculum materials.

The committee decided that the book was inappropriate for certain middle school readers because of the mature sexual situations and language found in its contents as well as its portrayal of hypersexual homosexual characters, which some committee members believed may reinforce harmful stereotypes regarding homosexuality.

A week before the June 29 vote on the issue, school board member Michele Bettinger resigned from her position, citing a contentious political environment surrounding this issue and other obstacles to her duties at the position.

During the June 29 meeting, the board’s vice president, Joseph Bento, raised concerns regarding the appropriateness of invoking the Instructional Materials Committee to evaluate library materials because librarians are typically understood to be autonomous in how they curate library collections. He claimed the district’s library policies were not up to date, and that the process was affected.

Bento said that ultimately, he did not believe in banning books.

“I am a big believer that one [person] should not decide what all students get to read in a school or school district,” Bento said during the meeting. “Books should be available to all students and parents and families should talk to their students about their own values and beliefs if they don’t want their child reading specific books.”

Leslie Hamada, president of the board, spoke on the difficulty of addressing this issue and finding a solution that would please everyone.

“It appears to me that because this is our first book challenge on free reading, we as a board need to take a closer look at more clarity on how free reading or controversial books or curriculum are looked at,” Hamada said. “To me, it is a different challenge than everyday curriculum work.”

She said that in her own reading of “Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts),” she did not necessarily agree with every aspect and situation in the book, but also found many other positive and encouraging characters, themes and situations. Hamada also said that while some situations and themes were troubling to her, they were admittedly situations that students themselves may face when they attend Kent School District high schools.

“We have several of our students who may need to read or learn about the contents of this book regarding [the main character’s] experiences,” Hamada said. “Our value words in this district are ‘Equity,’ ‘Excellence,’ ‘Community.’ They only develop meaning if we put them into action.”

Board member Tim Clark said that he trusted the Instructional Materials Committee to make the right decision regarding the appropriateness of the literature. He said he felt the school board should allow the Instructional Materials Committee to do the work it was established to do.

Clark was the only board member to vote to uphold the IMC’s ruling, while both Bento and Hamada voted to reject it. Board member Awale Farah abstained his vote. Farah had not returned requests for comment as of press time.