A gay Utah father is frustrated that his local school board, which elected to pull a picture book from elementary school library shelves because it included lesbian parents, is “literally segregating” gay and lesbian headed families. Weston Clark, 33, a former teacher in the Davis County school district, who now is a stay-at-home father to a two-year old son whom he raises with his partner of 12 years, has tried to create a dialogue on the book ban with the Davis County School Superintendent, but ultimately was rebuffed.
“A committee of seven teachers, administrators, and parents from Utah’s Davis School District voted 6-1 to segregate In Our Mothers’ House (Philomel, 2009), described in an SLJ review as a “gem of a book” that illustrates how love makes a family, even if it’s not a traditional one,” the School Library Journal reported last week:
“It’s still in the library, it’s just placed behind the counter,” says Chris Williams, a district spokesperson. “If a child hands in a permission slip they can still read it.”
The decision to restrict access to Polacco’s story-about a black girl who describes how her two Caucasian mothers, Marmee and Meema, adopted her, her Asian brother, and her red-headed sister-has raised concerns from the library community and anticensorship organizations, with the Utah Library Association (ULA) holding a meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the situation, says Anna Neatrour, ULA’s executive director.
While news reports have stated that other gay-themed books are being eyed for removal, including Justin Richardson’s and Peter Parnell’s And Tango Makes Three (S & S, 2005) and James Howe’s Totally Joe (Atheneum, 2007), Williams says the district hasn’t received any challenges against the titles, nor has it requested that other books be pulled. And Tango Makes Three topped the American Library Association’s Most Frequently Challenged Books in 2010.
Weston Clark, who attended, graduated, and later taught school in Utah’s Davis County School District told The New Civil Rights Movement in an exclusive interview via telephone that by removing the book, In Our Mothers’ House, from the school shelves and housing it behind a counter, “they are literally segregating our families’ stories and that’s sending a strong message to all families.”
Clark notes that “just like other areas, we have bullying issues.” He pointed to a recent anti-LGBT bullying related teen suicide. Sadly, there are far too many.
Clark says his goal is “to show the school board the LGBT families live in their community too,” and to “protect the kids. My kids, other people’s kids. All kids.”
Clark adds that he wants the school board to realize that “decisions they make affect all the families” in the district,” and says he finds it “hard to believe that the people of Davis County” will support anti-gay bigotry, even in the form of a book ban.
The Salt Lake Tribune yesterday notes that Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams “said the decision was made because state law dictates that curriculum cannot advocate homosexuality and that the book was determined to not be age-appropriate for kindergarten students.”
Concerns about the book surfaced in January, after the mother of a kindergarten student at Windridge Elementary in Kaysville became upset when her child checked out the book and brought it home. The mother and her husband took their concerns to elementary school officials, according to Williams.
Williams said the book was purchased in part because a student who attended Windridge Elementary has two mothers and librarians wanted to foster inclusion.
Two groups have criticized the district’s decision to limit access to the picture book.
The Kids’ Right to Read Project, a joint effort of the New York-based National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, wrote Bowles last week to voice objections about censoring children from the book. The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah also sent a similar letter to Bowles, stating that the decision to limit access to Polacco’s book is likely unconstitutional.
Tonight, the Davis County School Board is scheduled to meet at an event open to the public. Weston Clark has been working with schools superintendent Bryan Bowles to create a dialogue around the issue, and to have LGBT families attend the meeting and be introduced to the board. When word got out, however, Clark says Bowles denied there had been an agreement to let the families be recognized.
As it stands, tonight’s meeting should prove to be interesting. LGBT families and their allies are still expected to attend the school board meeting, as will Clark, who says he doesn’t have an agenda for the meeting, he “just want[s] to see what happens.”
Image, top: Weston Clark, left, Brandon Mark, right, son Xander, center. Used with permission.
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