Parents’ efforts to restrict content available to students in school libraries has become a contentious issue in Maryland. Conservative parent groups, such as Moms for Liberty, have been working to get books they believe are inappropriate removed from libraries in Carroll and Howard counties, sparking protests, new policies and even a state law.

The Freedom to Read Act, passed in April, sets standards that books cannot be removed from public and school libraries due to an author’s background. Library staff that uphold the standard are protected under this act. The law, however, does not prohibit removing books deemed “sexually explicit,” the stated reason local Moms for Liberty chapters challenged school library books.

Anne Arundel voters in four districts will decide May 14 which two candidates will advance in the race for a seat on the school board, the body that sets policies around materials allowed in schools. Here’s how the candidates view recent efforts to restrict content in school libraries:

Candidates receptive to book restrictions

Several candidates bristled at the term “book ban” and called the debates a distraction, but they affirmed the idea that sexually explicit material doesn’t belong in schools.

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A few said schools need a process to evaluate reading materials. Anne Arundel schools have a 15-step review procedure for any challenged books.

District 1 candidate Hunter J. Voss is open to hearing parents’ concerns about age-appropriate library books, but said “the issue of banning books has been beaten like a dead horse to stoke racial tensions and pit LGBT people against straight people.”

He said it doesn’t matter if there are books in the library if kids cannot read.

Chuck Yocum (District 3) said he doesn’t support the removal of books because they generally make someone uncomfortable, but he draws a line at sexually explicit material.

“I believe content that is age inappropriate should not be in our school libraries. By inappropriate I mean that of a descriptive sexual nature (including those with graphic illustrations involving sexual acts,) above the general comprehension of the students age,” Yocum said in response to the Banner’s Voter Guide questionnaire.

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Tareque Farruk (District 5) said there should be an evaluation process for sexually explicit material.

“A book would be rated ‘sexually explicit’ if the material is deemed offensive and not part of the required educational curriculum,” Farruk said.

LaToya Nkongolo (District 5) said in certain circumstances it may be appropriate to remove books from school libraries if they’re graphic or violent. Those decisions should be made with input from parents and educators, and should uphold “the principles of academic freedom and intellectual diversity,” she said.

Nkongolo prefers to focus on book selection and curation.”

“What I am advocating for is a focus on selecting books that offer the best academic value for our students,” she said.

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Candidates opposed to book restrictions

A number of candidates said they won’t entertain parents’ attempts to remove school library books because the school system hires librarians qualified to make those judgements. They also said that parents should have the right to choose what their own children read, but shouldn’t impose their decisions on others.

Ciera Harlee (District 1) said she believes school librarians select books that are developmentally appropriate, and that parents should make decisions only for their own family.

Erica McFarland (District 3) said, “We are all unique in what speaks to us, and we have the choice to read a book or leave it on the shelf, but we need to maintain diversity in book choices so that we all have access to the books that spark our interest.”

Jamie Hurman-Cougnet (District 3) said she believes age-appropriate material determined by the media department guidelines should be available in all school libraries.

Sarah McDermott (District 4) said, “I will not knowingly contribute to a less tolerant world, so I will never vote in favor of book bans.”

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District 5 candidate Dana Schallheim said she is entirely against another parent or group of parents making decisions regarding what her child and her peers can read.

“Censorship, white-washing curriculum, the omitting of historical facts, and other regressive policies must never find a home within AACPS,” Schallheim said.

Candidates who haven’t taken a stance

These candidates did not respond to The Banner’s questions about their position on school library books:

Baltimore Banner reporters Kristen Griffith, Pamela Wood and Brenda Wintrode contributed to this report.

This story has been updated to include Sarah McDermott’s position.

Royale Bonds attended Southern Illinois University. Go Salukis! She previously worked as an affordable housing reporter in Greenville, South Carolina. Royale enjoys long naps, snacking and endless scrolling on social media. She looks forward to reporting on Anne Arundel County and covering the stories that matter.

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