Book Bedlam in Annandale

ANNANDALE – In the midst of a two hour-plus public session Tuesday night, Stephen Halldorson, the president of the local teachers’ union, stepped to the microphone.

Yes, he said, he understands why some parents and students may find library books about sexual themes objectionable. So, don’t read them.

But at the same time, don’t try to force your views onto others.

It seems very simple. Common sense usually is.

A continuing battle over a handful of library books in the high school library resumed this week before the North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional District school board. Last week’s scheduled meeting was postponed, because the crowd was too large for the board’s usual meeting room. This week the meeting was moved to the high school’s theater, which holds a bit more than 600; most of the seats were filled.

The ensuing back and forth between book supporters and those who want to remove “inappropriate” books was somewhat academic.

As Board President Glen Farbanish said at the start of the meeting, no books are being challenged. He spoke of a formal challenging procedure that needs to take place, adding that just speaking against a book at a board meeting is not good enough.

Five books were challenged last year and the board voted to keep all of them in the library. Given the fact, “book banning” is a national issue, it is no surprise the topic has popped up again.

The “hero” of the moment, according to many in the crowd, is school Librarian Martha Hickson, who has defended the right of all students to read what they want. This stance earned her recognition as Librarian of the Year by the state Library Association, but also harsh criticism from those who consider some of the books in question “porn.”

Farbanish, in fact, condemned profane and threatening social media messages about the topic, adding that the district supports students freely exchanging ideas.

Hickson’s supporters seemed to outnumber her opponents. As these things go in polarized times, the public session was relatively peaceful with very limited booing and interruptions.

One exception was a man who got annoyed because he said people kept cutting in front of him in line as he waited to address the board. After spouting some f-bombs about “sick” people, police escorted him out of the room.

Call it a colorful interlude.

Many students backed their librarian.

“No one is going to stop people of my age from being curious,” said one girl. She said seeking info about sex and gender in books is preferable to searching the Internet. Others said students need books to expand their knowledge.

Those who disagreed with that view said it’s more important for a school to keep students “safe.” More than one said inappropriate books threaten the “innocence” and well being of young people. And they said such books can lead to sexual abuse.

One speaker upset with the books was Republican Assemblyman Erik Peterson, of LD-23, which includes the district. He said that it’s time to “bring back some social decency,”

A lot of attention on this night was focused on “Let’s Talk About It,” a teen’s guide to “sex, relationships and being a human.”

This is a graphic novel that poses the following questions:

“Is what I’m feeling normal? Is what my body is doing normal? Am I normal? How do I know what are the right choices to make? How do I know how to behave? How do I fix it when I make a mistake?

Let’s talk about it.”

Graphic novels tend to be, well, graphic. Opponents displayed a large sign featuring sexual images from the book that they said were not suitable for students.

But a student speaker countered that the book is, “Sex education for teenagers.”

Hickson was at the meeting, but did not speak.

One of her opponents said her support from library associations is not persuasive, claiming that the American Library Association puts undue pressure on local libraries to defend inappropriate books. As the battle over books has unfolded, the American Library Association has become a villain in the eyes of conservatives.

Then again, some in the crowd said the school board was not doing enough to support Hickson, who, of course, is a district employee.

The board’s behavior during the public session was typical.

Unlike town councils, which are more likely to engage with the public, many school boards have a policy of saying nothing – literally nothing – during a public portion.

The idea, presumably, is to listen and not get bogged down in lengthy  – and perhaps acrimonious – exchanges.

Fair point. But board members are elected officials, so why not react – at least – occasionally – to what the public is saying?

Staying mum does not seem helpful.

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6 responses to “Book Bedlam in Annandale”

  1. The “common sense” that’s usually so simple is this:

    if you want your 9th grade child to read about having sex, buy your child the book.

    It’s having the book in the library that’s forcing one’s view on others.

    Not having the book in the library forces no one’s view since it’s not there.

    It seems that there are those who are insisting on raising other people’s children as they see fit.

  2. If you don’t want your child reading the book then be a responsible parent and go with them to the library and police what they are reading. Nobody is forcing these books on anyone. It’s anyone’s right to pick up whatever book they want to read. If you’re afraid of what your kid picks up then don’t let them go to the library. But you’re not gonna take away mine and anyone else’s right to read that book because you don’t want your kid reading the book.

  3. What are the 5 rights in the 1st Amendment?

    Apply landmark Supreme Court cases to contemporary scenarios related to the five pillars of the First Amendment and your rights to freedom of religion, —-speech, —-press, —-assembly, and petition.

  4. Get that filth out of the schools and kid’s libraries! It’s hard to believe that it even has to be debated! New Jersey is becoming an immoral cesspool! Just another reason to flee!

  5. The books in question are those that are in the school library. No parent is walking into the school library with their child.
    I have no problem with any book in the public library. This is a school library only open to the students.
    No one is taking your rights away, Amy. You have it completely backwards. The parents have no control what books their child is taking out of the school library.

  6. You are totally INCORRECT!

    Every parent can contact the school librarian and ask the librarian to mark their child’s record not to allow that child to check out that book.

    You, as parent have total control.

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