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Angry crowd derails Dearborn Public Schools board meeting over book policy

Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio
A Dearborn Public Schools board meeting Monday never quite got to the public comment period, as members of the public who came to voice concerns about the district's policy on reviewing books for appropriateness derailed the agenda.

Monday's Dearborn Public Schools board meeting never made it as far as the public comment period.

The agenda included a deeply contentious issue: the district's policy for removing books from school libraries.

The meeting was attended by an overflow crowd. Most were young men, some led by Muslim religious leaders— a contrast to the largely Christian groups that have led other efforts to restrict books in Michigan libraries.

Some people at the Dearborn meeting held signs with anti-LGBTQ messages.

Many in the crowd were upset by one book in particular: "This Book is Gay," by Juno Dawson. It's a young adult non-fiction book on gender and sexuality. The book includes rough pencil drawings of male and female anatomy, which one group brought to the board meeting enlarged, on poster board, saying they were inappropriate for children.

The book was being reviewed for appropriateness by the school district after a parent objected. The parent also asked for the removal of five other books, which are also under review:

  • Push
  • The Lovely Bones
  • Eleanor & Park
  • Red, White and Royal Blue
  • All Boys Aren't Blue

School staff explained that the district has a policy of not including media materials containing graphic and/or gratuitous violence, sexual content, expletives, or hate speech, and without literary or educational merit, in the library collection. Staff meet to discuss student or parent objections to a particular item, and meet with the objector to explain their decision.

The revised policy allows parents, if they object to that decision, to appeal it to a committee comprised of community, parents, staff members, and students.

As the meeting progressed, interruptions from the crowd became louder and increasingly frequent, despite calls from board members for decorum and respecting the right of others to speak.

Chants of "vote them out," broke out when school board president Roxanne McDonald said a three-minute limit per speaker would be strictly enforced. The room was also far over its occupancy limit, and after the crowd ignored multiple orders for people to move into two overflow rooms, board members ended the meeting prior to the public comment period.

The meeting will reconvene in a larger venue — Fordson High School — Thursday evening.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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