banned books, Censorship

Police Search Massachusetts Middle School For LGBTQ+ Book, Angering Activists

The book explores the author's journey with identity and is known as one of the most banned in recent years.

A plainclothes police officer who entered an eighth grade classroom in Massachusetts searching for a LGBTQ+ book has made national news for all the wrong reasons.

The Berkshire Eagle reports that a Great Barrington officer used a body cam to enter W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School on a quest to investigate a complaint about the book Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, a memoir celebrating gender identity that contains sexually explicit illustrations and language.

Police received a complaint on Dec. 8 from someone “who witnessed what they perceived to be concerning illustrations” in a book given to students by a teacher.

The graphic novel explores the author’s journey with identity and has been known as one of the most banned or challenged books in recent years.

“Because this complaint was made directly to the police department, we are obligated and have a duty to examine the complaint further,” Great Barrington Police Chief Paul Stort said in a statement.

However, after finding the book wasn’t even on school grounds, Storti had no other choice to apologize. “After a brief conversation with the teacher, the officer was advised that the book in question was not there and could not be accounted for at that time,” the statement said, according to CNN.

Ruth A. Bourquin, senior and managing attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts, said since schools and libraries have internal procedures for book challenges, police have never had to go into a school to search for a book. “That’s partly what is so concerning,” Bourquin said. “Police going into schools and searching for books is the sort of thing you hear about in communist China and Russia. What are we doing?”

Massachusetts state law defines material to be “obscene” if the material is of interest sexually, depicts or describes sexual conduct “in a way that is patently offensive to an average citizen of this county,” and “has no serious value of a literary, artistic, political or scientific kind.” However, both state and federal constitutions have protections in place, giving students the rights to receive information. The ACLU and GLAAD sent an open letter in January 2023 to school superintendents statewide due to the rise in attempts to ban school library books.

The school’s librarian, Jennifer Guerin, argued that the situation is about more than “forcing a book into students’ hands.”

“It’s about the freedom to read,” Guerin said. “It’s about providing voluntary access to a well-written, highly acclaimed resource in a safe place for a teenager who might want or need it.”

School officials including Berkshire Hills Regional School District Superintendent Peter Dillon and chair of the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee, Stephen Bannon, apologized for how the incident was handled.

“Faced with an unprecedented police investigation of what should be a purely educational issue, we tried our best to serve the interests of students, families, teachers, and staff,” the statement read. “In hindsight, we would have approached that moment differently. We are sorry. We can do better to refine and support our existing policies.  We are committed to supporting all our students, particularly vulnerable populations.”

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