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Williamsburg-James City County schools remove a book from libraries for the first time following a parent’s complaint

(Image: via Shutterstock)
(Image: via Shutterstock)

Williamsburg- James City County schools will remove a book from library shelves following a parent's complaint for the first time.

Parent Jill Pyles told the district in a formal complaint she was concerned about profanity in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” a 2012 novel that was at Jamestown and Lafayette high schools. 

“I appealed to the school board for [the] profanity and pornography policies,” Pyles told the school board at its March meeting. 

“We look at the outside of the child's behavior, good grades, making a lot of money, college bound, but the inside of the child is important, they’re impressionable.” 

She said the book contained “f-bombs” and “phone sex” and asked the school board to clarify its “profanity and pornography policies.”

Pyles filed her initial complaint on Feb. 2 and a committee assembled to review the book in March. A majority voted to keep it on the shelves.

Pyles appealed the school committee’s decision, leading Assistant Superintendent Catherine Worley to form a second committee at the district level, which overturned the ruling of the first committee and meant the book would be removed from the two high schools.

While the district informed school librarians at the impacted schools, no official announcement was made to the schools, parents or students that the book was being removed.

Chief Operating Officer Daniel Keever, who served on Worley’s committee, said removing the book wasn’t a ban.

“We haven’t banned anything. What we’ve said is this book is no longer going to be on our shelves,” Keever said. 

“Students who may be interested in this book still have the option through the local library to access that book electronically through the relationship our school division has with the local public library.”

Adeleine Mcknight, a sophomore at Jamestown High, said limiting access to books hurts students. 

“If the majority of us aren’t talking about it and telling [the school board] that we don’t agree with this and that this is hurting us, then they’re going to continue listening to the parents who are saying things because the parents are being louder than us,” McKnight said. 

Williamsburg-James City County’s complaint is the latest in continuing challenges to book access in schools across the country for a range of complaints, from profanity to what some parents consider inappropriate discussions of sexual and gender identity.

In Virginia Beach, the school board is considering a district-wide policy to define what is considered sexually explicit and how school libraries should handle it. 

It follows a few years of individual books being considered for removal by the city’s school board.

Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools and Virginia Beach Public Schools are members of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds WHRO's license.

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