FCPS Reinstates Two Books, Reaffirming Commitment to Supporting Diversity in Literature

By Office of Communication and Community Relations
November 23, 2021

Two books that were subject to a formal challenge have been deemed appropriate for high school readers following a two-month review process and will be reinstated to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) libraries.

The decision reaffirms FCPS’ ongoing commitment to provide diverse reading materials that reflect our student population, allowing every child an opportunity to see themselves reflected in literary characters. Both reviews concluded that the books were valuable in their potential to reach marginalized youth who may struggle to find relatable literary characters that reflect their personal journeys.

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison had been temporarily removed from FCPS libraries serving high schools following a challenge in September. The highly-regarded and award-winning books were questioned due to content said to be of an explicit sexual nature, and claims that they referenced pedophilia.

Per FCPS Regulation 3009, on receipt of the formal complaint, two committees of school administrators, librarians, parents, and students were formed to consider whether the two books were suitable (as optional independent reading material) for high school students. Both books were temporarily withdrawn from FCPS library shelves during the review process.

After deliberate and lengthy discussions on the potential merits and concerns of the book as a literary work, and the potential merits and concerns associated with retaining or removing access to the book from students using school libraries, the committees unanimously recommended that the books should remain available. The final decision to reinstate them was made by the assistant superintendent, Instructional Services Department, per the process outlined in the regulation.

The committee noted the following merits of “Lawn Boy,” which appears in the catalogue of 11 FCPS high schools:

  • The book is an accessible examination of race, class, socio-economic struggle, and sexual identity. It paints a portrait of the substantial obstacles faced by those who are marginalized by society. It is an uplifting and humanizing depiction of navigating through setbacks with resiliency to reach goals and will resonate with students.
  • The themes of this book are affirming for students who will recognize that they are not alone as they experience similar systemic challenges and societal prejudices.
  • The book has literary value as a narrative representing the perspective of a significant portion of students in Fairfax County Public Schools with a variety of backgrounds.
  • There is no pedophilia present in the book.

The committee noted the following merits of “Gender Queer,” which appears in the catalogue of seven high schools:

  • The book is a well-written, scientifically based narrative of one person’s journey with gender identity that contains information and perspective that is not widely represented. This depiction includes the difficulties nonbinary and asexual individuals may face. The book has literary value in its structure, voice, and themes and has won literary awards.
  • Students with a related experience will feel affirmed and others can gain understanding and empathy.
  • The resources referenced in the book provide access to additional, reliable information.
  • The book neither depicts nor describes pedophilia.

Klimenko accepted the committees’ recommendation, and today, FCPS announced the decision that will see the books return to shelves. This decision holds, pending any further appeal.

Klimenko said, “I am satisfied that the books were selected according to FCPS regulations and are appropriate to include in libraries that serve high school students. Both books have value beyond their pages for students who may struggle to find relatable stories.”

The robust committee process took place over several weeks and considered whether the books flouted regulations by being obscene or harmful to juveniles as defined by the Code of Virginia. The members also considered the work in line with an excerpt from the FCPS Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook pertaining to possessing obscene visual imagery as defined in the Code of Virginia. 

After careful consideration, neither books were deemed to have fallen foul of these regulations.

The two committee reports are available to read:

FCPS has a required process for selecting books and materials for school libraries. The process also outlines the criteria for withdrawing resources from the collection and the procedures for reconsideration of the appropriateness of a book. All the division’s library books are included in an online database open to public view.  

Parents are also welcome to visit their student’s school library by making an appointment ahead of time and following visitor protocol. Pre-arranged visits to school libraries are possible before or after the instructional day. 

Read more about this decision.