The Ongoing Book Battle in Annandale

The Gold Dome.

ANNANDALE – School Board member Beth Kotran got no disagreement when she said they didn’t have books like this when she was in high school.

But, as she suggested, time is not stagnant, it moves along.

So, in 2024, a book entitled, “Let’s Talk About It,” which helps teens learn about gender, anatomy and sexuality, should be in the school library.

Soon thereafter, the North Hunterdon-Voorhees Regional Board of Education voted 7-4 to keep the book on the shelves, thwarting an effort to ban it. The board oversees two high schools in rural – by New Jersey standards – Hunterdon County.

Dissenting board members said the book should be considered “obscene” under New Jersey law.

The action this week was yet another touch point in a continuing statewide battle over how public schools deal with sexuality.

Most of the crowd supported the book, but some audience members wanted it banned.

One critic said the book “goes far beyond what is educational” and that it encourages “sexting.”

He added, “This is dangerous.”

The ongoing book battle here has thrust Martha Hickson, the school librarian, into the limelight.

Her strong support for books and the freedom to read won her the 2023 designation of Librarian of the Year by the state Library Association.

But it also has prompted critics to attack her for supporting “pornography.”

On this night, Hickson addressed the board, which has been criticized itself for not more strongly backing its own librarian.

The crowd cheered when she appeared.

“We’re not talking about grade-schoolers here,” Hickson said, noting that the book is available to high school students, who she described as among the brightest anywhere.

The point was quite clear. The students are intelligent enough to decide for themselves if they want to read  “Let’s Talk About It.”

The student rep on the school board, in fact, said most of her peers want the book to stay.

This prompted an odd episode. One board member said the board’s student rep should not be permitted to speak, because she was not elected by voters.

The board attorney interceded and said, yes, she can speak.

In general, book supporters – both students and adults – said many find the book valuable and those who don’t, do not have to read it.

This sounds like a principle that is very easy to understand. But in today’s polarizing times, perhaps not.

Some board members also said that the district’s educational professionals, who have endorsed the book, should be respected.

This led to odd episode number two.

One board member said following the advice of professional educators is like heeding dental guidance when “97 percent of dentists” recommend a certain toothpaste.

That didn’t ring true for Nicole Gallo, one of the board members who wanted the book removed.

She said she wouldn’t follow such advice, explaining, “I don’t use fluoride.”

Some in the crowd laughed.

And then the vote came, and there were a lot of cheers.

 

 

 

 

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