The Newtown Board of Education unanimously decided Thursday evening to keep a pair of graphic novels on the high school library’s shelves.
The vote comes one day after two of the Republican board members — Janet Kuzma and Jennifer Larkin — resigned their seats. Both had previously voted — in a split decision divided along party lines — to ban the books.
At the meeting Thursday, members called the weeks-long — and often heated — process on whether to ban the books after complaints were filed in March an eye-opening experience and a new opportunity to move forward with better policies.
The board’s 5-0 decision supports a recommendation from district leadership and school staff to keep the books “Flamer” by Mike Curato and “Blankets” by Craig Thompson at the high school’s library. It also requires that administrators develop a process to address individual parent or guardian concerns related to their children.
“We always do try to meet parents where they’re at and work with the family and work with our students to do what’s best for everybody, and I see this motion as the opportunity to continue to do that to our students,” said Anne Uberti, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. “There’s been some reflection for us, not just me, but with the library media specialists, on things that we can do better. I think some people were surprised to see [Curato’s] book in our library — I was — and maybe we need to be clear about what things our kids are exposed to and why we offer those types of books so people understand the reason they’re there in the first place.
“Those are going to be the things we’re going to be looking at, but we do want to heal,” she added. “I see this as a place to move forward and come together and reunite the community.”
The decision Thursday was preceded by comments from community members, including various testimonies from students about the importance of keeping the books for those that may identify as LGBTQ or those who may be struggling with difficult themes the books discuss like sexual assault, bullying and navigating their sexuality.
“Kids like me die when policymakers politicize and eradicate our stories. Books like these offer a path forward — a way to live — when it seems impossible,” said Kate Shirk, an 18-year-old senior at Newtown High School who identifies as nonbinary. “This isn’t about a book challenge. For us, this is a targeted attack on our existence in this town. You ban these books, and you alienate us, you tell us we don’t belong. Kids will still find pornography. They’ll still learn vulgar language. They’re not getting that from these books anyways.”
During public comment, some also called for the board chair Deborra Zukowski to resign and a handful of back-and-forth arguments ensued between Zukowski and speakers when they spoke over a two-minute allotted time.
In late March, Curato and Thompson’s books were challenged by less than a dozen community members, who cited that the texts were inappropriate and sexually explicit for teens. One of the books had never been checked out, and the other hadn’t been checked out since 2015.
The book challenges, a total of 10 filed within a three-day period, were just the beginning of what became a divisive debate among community members. Zukowski said at Thursday’s meeting that the board had listened to over five hours of public comment on the issue in recent weeks.
Most public comment since early April had been in support of keeping the books in the library, a similar sentiment that was seen at the meeting Thursday where only one out of a dozen people spoke in opposition.
This story originally appeared on the website of The Connecticut Mirror, www.ctmirror.org.