Banned Books Week display at Staples High School
The “Banned Books” display last September at the Staples High School library provoked harsh criticism from some parents. One parent’s formal challenge calling for three of the books to be removed from the library has been dropped, school officials said Friday. / File photo

By John Schwing

WESTPORT — A months-long controversy over books in the Staples High School library, which critics called inappropriate and pornographic, has apparently ended after a parent dropped her appeal of the decision to keep the books in the library’s collection.

Responding to an inquiry Tuesday from the Westport Journal, school officials confirmed Friday the appeal — filed by Tara McLaughlin over three books included in a “Banned Books’ display at the school’s library last September — has been withdrawn.

McLaughlin — called Tara Tesoriero in some documents filed in connection with her complaint — initially intended to press her case, as allowed under school district policy, by appealing to the Board of Education a decision by Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice that the books should remain in the library.

The three books that McLaughlin challenged in April, under the rarely used policy, are:  “Flamer,” by Mike Curato, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson. All have LGBTQ themes.

They were among books included in the Staples library’s Banned Books display, assembled according to the American Library Association’s list of the most widely banned books in 2022.

Several speakers at a Board of Education meeting in October harshly criticized books in the display, describing them as as age-inappropriate, pornographic and dangerous because of graphic sexual content and information about finding sexual partners. Educators were accused of trying to groom and indoctrinate students with views their families find offensive.

The school board, after squabbling over how to address the issue, referred the complaints to its seldom-used process of reviewing challenges to materials used in town schools.

Only the formal challenge by McLaughlin moved forward to a three-part hearing conducted by the specially empaneled “Superintendent’s Review Committee” earlier this spring.

McLaughlin, in an hour-long presentation to the 10-member committee, called the three books “vulgar” and “without educational value.” She said including the books in the library’s collection is “a dereliction of duty” by educators.

Three “challenged” books in the Staples High School library, which the Superintendent’s Review Committee recommends remain in the collection, include from left: “Flamer” by Mike Curato, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson.
Three “challenged” books in the Staples High School library were, from left: “Flamer” by Mike Curato, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson. Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice decided the books should remain in the library, based on the unanimous recommendation of a committee that held a three-part hearing on a parent’s complaint, calling for the books to be removed.

The committee, led by Elaine Whitney, a former school board chairwoman, at the conclusion of its review unanimously recommended to Scarice that the books be kept on the Staples library shelves.

Scarice subsequently accepted the committee’s recommendation, but acknowledged last week that McLaughlin intended to appeal his decision to the Board of Education — as she was entitled to do under the school district policy.

However, in a brief note Friday, the school district announced the appeal was withdrawn.

Some of the books challenged in Westport have been controversial elsewhere, including a weeks-long, divisive debate in nearby Newtown.