By Thane Grauel
WESTPORT — The Board of Education held a second open forum Tuesday at the Westport Library, and the debate over displaying books banned elsewhere continued.
A public forum was held in the library in November. The book displays were discussed then, but some people had more to say, so a half-hour of Tuesday’s forum was dedicated to the topic.
A display of “Banned Books,” as classified by the American Library Association and displayed last fall at Staples High School, at the time triggered controversy. A group of parents called books available at the Staples library and other town schools pornographic and inappropriate for student-age readers.
The issue has not only highlighted divides among the public, but also on the school board. Tuesday’s discussion was a conversation. No decisions were made and board members and others were free to discuss their thoughts.
The forum began with a woman reading a statement accusing the schools of displaying pornographic materials.
She said she sends her children to public schools to be taught the sciences, “not to be presented with such materials. “Parents who want to sexualize their children early have a choice to do it in private,” the woman said. “However, they remove out ability to make choices when they shove this material into our children’s faces.”
Speakers were not asked to identify themselves, and almost no one did.
“Insofar as these books are in every school library in all surrounding towns, including the private schools … it’s not to me a crisis,” board Chairwoman Lee Goldstein said.
“We’re not some fringe school with some books that are outside the bounds of what most local high school libraries have,” she said.
“In all my years of teaching I have never witnessed this level of hatred, bigotry, lies, conspiracy theories and attacks targeting teachers, superintendents, students and our public schools, and it all started in Florida,” said another woman, who taught 14 years at public schools in several districts. “The gaslighting is astounding and frightening …”
“Who’s being hurt if those books in question are simply taken out?” asked another woman, who said she is Christian and knows books regarding her faith would be a problem. “Those topics, they don’t need to be discussed in in school. This is a private matter — you can all talk to your kids to your heart’s content.”
Board member Robert Harrington said he doesn’t think books should be banned because “it’s hard to know where to draw the line.”
“I do struggle with the way it was meant to be deliberately provocative,” he said of the Staples library display. “To goad children to come and look at these graphic materials and pictures, whatever you think of them.”
“I don’t think it’s healthy, but I don’t support banning books,” Harrington said. “So, I would be careful going forward about falling into the trap of kind of having these deliberate displays kind of goading our children to read.”
The board also heard from the public on its equity, diversity and inclusion efforts, and other topics.
Thane Grauel, executive editor, grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond more than three decades. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about us here.