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, which Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice — acting on the recommendation of a special review committee — has decided should remain in the Staples High School library are: “Flamer” by Mike Curato, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson.

By Linda Conner Lambeck

WESTPORT — There is still another chapter to be written about three books a local parent wants removed from the Staples High School library.

Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice acknowledged by email Thursday that he upheld the decision of the Superintendent’s Review Committee within the 10-day period allotted earlier this spring.

Tara McLaughlin, the mother of three, had 30 days to file an appeal, “… and the complainant requested an appeal to the Board of Education,” Scarice wrote.

The board intends to hear the appeal by the end of June, Scarice said.

The books in question are: “Flamer,” by Mike Curato, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “This Book is Gay,” by Juno Dawson.

One of those books, “Flamer,” has been at the center of a weeks-long controversy to remove it from another Fairfield County high school library. On Thursday, the Board of Education in Newtown — where two members quit during the dispute over the book — voted to keep “Flamer” and another book, “Blankets” by Craig Thompson, in the school’s library.

In Westport, the three challenged books were included in a 10-book “Banned Books,” display at the Staples library last September, but have been in the school library’s collection for years. The display, based on a list assembled by the American Library Association, challenged students to find out why the books, some of which dealt with homosexuality and transgender sexuality, were banned in some places.

In October, several members of the public described the books as inappropriate and “too explicit” during the public comment portion of a school board meeting.

The board refrained from commenting at the time — over the objections by three Republican members.

Chairwoman Lee Goldstein, a Democrat, said it would have been premature to have a public discussion before following a board policy on challenged school materials.

Tara McLaughlin, who also refers to herself as Tara Tesoriero, in March presented her case to the Superintendent’s Review Committee on why she feels three books should be removed from the Staples High School library. She is appealing the committee’s decision — upheld by Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice — that the books remain in the library. / File photo

Although Scarice and the board heard from several residents upset by the books, only McLaughlin’s complaint went through a rarely used review process for school district materials facing a formal challenge. 

A special committee, with 10 members, was convened to review the complaint in March.

At the review committee’s first hearing, McLaughlin — who in some board documents called herself Tara Tesoriero — called the books “vulgar” and “pornographic.”

The review committee, after three meetings in March and April, unanimously decided the books should remain in the Staples library, saying they have educational value. Removing them would send the message that LGBTQ+ students are not valued or welcome members of the school community, the committee members said.

The committee also said the books have age-appropriate content; are within the scope of the school’s health curriculum; are recommended by the American Library Association and American Association of School Librarians; have received literary awards, and were considered for inclusion in the Staples library collections by staff who followed procedures outlined by board policies.

The committee’s recommendation was forwarded to Scarice, who on Thursday disclosed his decision to accept the panel’s judgment.

In response, McLaughlin has decided to appeal Scarice’s decision to the full school board as allowed under the school district’s policy, according to the superintendent.

Aside from the appointed review panel, Board of Education members and administrators in Westport have not had a public discussion about the books challenged at the Staples library.

In Newtown, however, a sometimes-heated debate over the books by Curato and Thompson in the high school library attracted widespread attention during the 10 weeks the school board deliberated on the issue.

In late March, the two books had been challenged by fewer than a dozen Newtown residents, who said they were inappropriate and sexually explicit for teens — echoing the concerns lodged against books in the Staples library.

One of the books in the Newtown High School library had never been checked out, and the other hadn’t been checked out since 2015.

In the aftermath of the Newtown board’s unanimous decision to keep the books on offer in the high school library, Anne Uberti, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said, “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 ‘Flamer’] 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,” she added.

With reporting by Jessika Harkay,