Just weeks after the West Chester Area School District’s board voted 8-1 to keep “Gender Queer: A Memoir” in high school libraries, an anonymous flyer campaign is now targeting the rest of the district’s book collection that features LGBTQ themes.
Found in areas throughout the district, the heading of the double-sided flier includes a big, black shield with the words “Protect Our Children.” It goes on to falsely assert that the district’s middle and high school libraries contain over 80 books with sexually explicit content — and it provides examples.
The misleading flyer even identifies and targets history books in WCASD high school libraries such as “Queer America: LGBT History in the 20th Century” and “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution.” The anti-LGBTQ flyer also incorrectly says that the district “spent over $400,000 on critical race theory staff training,” among other falsehoods.
After obtaining a photocopy of the flyer, WHYY News reached out to the school district, which was already made aware of the flyers’ existence by community members.
West Chester Superintendent Bob Sokolowski said in an interview that there was initially some confusion as to who was actually the original source of the misinformation.
“It was brought to our attention by, I believe, a person who is the manager of an apartment complex in the area and she asked that the district not distribute these flyers — and when we reached out to her, we let her know that we’re not distributing any such fliers,” Sokolowski said.
Sokolowski, who staunchly defended the availability of “Gender Queer: A Memoir” remaining in school libraries, wants community members to know that the books are here to stay.
He said that it’s important for LGBTQ students to have books that they could be able to identify with in a school library.
“I think it’s important too that we recognize that school libraries are places where students have choices. School library [books] are not books that students are required to read as part of a specific curriculum. And I think that it’s important for us as a school district, that if we truly are being inclusive, that we’re thinking about our LGBTQ+ students and we’re offering them some texts which would help them,” Sokolowski said.
He added that he hopes that all members of the community understand how this campaign to ban books connects with the First Amendment.
“If we were ever to get into a place where we would ban books — ban books without going to committee, and without understanding fully and grabbing a consensus of understanding the value of certain texts — I think there would be a very slippery slope, in terms of banning books, and I think that that could really be an infringement on a right that we take so seriously in this country and that’s our freedom of speech,” Sokolowski said.
Nancy Wood is a parent in the district and has also seen the flyer, which was forwarded to her from several different people.
“When I saw it, I won’t say that I was surprised, because it’s very similar to some of the messaging that we’ve seen so much of on social media here locally, but also just in the national dialogue that’s happening,” Wood said. “The flyer is making it sound like it’s about protecting students in West Chester Area School District from sexually explicit content. But when you look at the flyer, that’s not what it’s about at all.”
As a constant attendee of school board meetings that have grown increasingly tense over the past year, Wood said that the flyer is akin to a “grab-bag of talking points” that she has grown all too familiar with “seeing from some of these groups that are attacking our public schools and public education.”
Having taken the time to look up every single title of the more than 80 books listed on the back of the flyer, Wood said that the claims made are false.
“They do all have one thing in common, but it certainly is not sexually explicit content. The one thing that these books have in common is that they recognize the existence of LGBTQ individuals,” Wood said.
While she is not surprised to see flyers like this one circulated throughout West Chester, she is concerned at how blatant the targeting of LGBTQ students and other vulnerable populations has become.
“Our students are suffering, our teachers are being attacked. We’ve had politicians calling our teachers groomers, we’ve had parents and activist groups calling out our GSA clubs, our student-led clubs that are protected by law. There’s just been a lot going on in our community and it’s really sad to see that we have adults who are targeting students who just want to go to school and learn and be themselves,” Wood said.
She added that it is sad to see students have to defend themselves and she said that school officials need to speak loudly and clearly in support of the children they are supposed to protect.
The main purpose of the flyer appears to be a call to action for people to attend upcoming school board meetings over the next few months at the Spellman Education Center in West Chester.
It’s unclear if there will be any more formal challenges to the WCASD’s book collection at the April 25 school board meeting.