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Dearborn removes two books from school library after parent pressure

meeting
About 60 people attended a Dearborn Public Schools board meeting Monday evening, following a hearing last month that drew roughly 600 people. (Bridge photo by Isabel Lohman)
  • The district is removing two books from school library shelves while still considering the fate of others 
  • There have been several efforts across the state to ban books with sexual content, including may with LGBTQ characters
  • The district already allows parents to opt their children out of checking out specific books from the library

DEARBORN — Dearborn Public Schools will permanently remove two popular and highly acclaimed books from its high school library after multiple raucous school board meetings where parents and community members accused the school district of providing inappropriate material to students.

Push” by Sapphire and “Red, White and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston were both deemed inappropriate for high schoolers while other books are still being reviewed or allowed to be kept on library shelves, the district announced at a school board meeting Monday evening with about 60 people attending.

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“Push” is an intense novel about a 16-year-old Black girl who is raped by her father and assaulted by her mother and later finds her voice with the help of a sympathetic teacher. It was later turned into the movie, “Precious.” “Red, White and Royal Blue” is about a romance between the U.S. president’s bisexual son and a gay British royal, both in their early 20s. The book has some sex scenes and coarse language.  

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“Push” had been checked out six times from Edsel Ford High School since February 2011, while “Red, White and Royal Blue” had been checked out nine times since July 2021, according to district communications director David Mustonen.

But the district’s announcement did little to quell most of the speakers at last night’s meeting, who continue to say the district is not doing enough to protect children. 

Dearborn joins a list of public school districts that have faced community members objecting to a number of books with LGBTQ or sexual themes, arguing they are inappropriate for children. Speakers Monday repeatedly said their concerns were not that the books contained LGBTQ characters or information. But at a board meeting last month several speakers decried the books under debate as pornographic or incompatible with their religious beliefs and several LGBTQ speakers were repeatedly being booed when they argued the books were important to making marginalized students feel heard.

In addition to the two books being removed, the district said it is moving the book “Eleanor and Park” by Rainbow Rowell from middle school libraries but will allow it to remain on high school shelves. The novel is about a romance between two 10th-graders. The girl lives with domestic violence at home and both teens struggle with traditional gender roles. The novel contains profanity.  

Other updates include: 

  • The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold was deemed appropriate for high school and will remain on the shelves.
  • While it was not part of the initial list of challenged books, the district also reviewed “Flamer” by Mike Curato, a graphic novel about a teen coming to terms with his identity in the face of bullying.  That book will remain at the high school level.
  • No decision has been made yet on “All Boys Aren’t Blue” a book of personal essays by LGBTQ activist George Johnson and “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson, described as an “instruction manual” exploring what it’s like to grow up LGBTQ. Neither book is available to students currently. The titles were available through an online ebook service currently disabled for district students and the district said it is working with the company to see if it can limit access to certain titles for students, according to a district news release

The Monday meeting drew a far lower crowd then the approximately 600 people who attended a meeting last month, which also included Republican candidates running for secretary of state and attorney general. Those who did show up Monday said they plan to continue attending meetings until they get their way.

school board
Dearborn Public Schools President Roxanne McDonald had to repeatedly tell attendees to be quiet when they interrupted speakers or board members at Monday’s board hearing. (Bridge photo by Isabel Lohman)

“You can’t just come tell me here ‘oh we did review the books and we figured out two books will be banned and the rest will not, the rest will not be banned,’”  Abdulnaser Alnajjar, a parent of one district student, said during public comment.  “I’m, as a parent, hold the right to understand every single step that was taken to make this decision. I can’t just come here and then listen to you just make those decisions.”

Another speaker said to the board “we should fire your ass,” which was met with cheers. 

How broadly such views are shared in the community remains in question. In last week’s board elections, Dearborn voters chose to re-elect two incumbents to the school board, while Stephanie Butler, a Dearborn parent who has been a prominent voice in the parental rights movement, launched an unsuccessful write-in campaign for a board seat.  

According to election data, the city also chose to re-elect Gov. Gretchen Whitmer rather than Republican candidate Tudor Dixon, who ran on a parental rights platform and was critical of how schools selected reading material. But Whitmer’s margins in the city were thinner than in 2018.

Whitmer won 70 percent of the votes in Dearborn when she ran against Republican Bill Schuette in 2018. In 2022, she won 64 percent of the votes while Dixon won 34 percent of the votes. 

During the campaign, conservative candidates and parents groups in Michigan and across much of the country criticized schools that allowed books they deemed inappropriate in libraries. Dixon at one point proposed a ban on what she deemed “pornographic” books in schools and used Dearborn as an example of parents being upset about public education.

Jenin Yaseen spoke at the board meeting Monday about the importance of “affirming all members of our community, not by restricting access” to LGBTQ content. She works with the group For the Binat, a group whose Instagram page describes its mission as “Arabs and Muslims mobilizing the community to confront the Patriarchy in Dearborn.”  

“Access to identity-affirming histories and education is vital to marginalized students' survival and sense of belonging,” she said. 

Board member Hussein Berry told people attending the meeting that he hears their concerns but must ensure the district does not break laws in the process of addressing concerns about books.

“At every level, local, state and federal parental rights are the most important rights…so we respect them, but at the same time, we have to work within the law. We can't allow people to judge other people, judge books at the expense of others,” he said. 

District develops new book review procedure

The district also released final guidelines of its book review procedure on Monday. The guidelines are available in both English and Arabic.

Under the guidelines, parents can generally challenge a book to a media specialist and the media specialist will review the book with other media specialists. A decision will then be made whether to keep or remove the book. 

If the parent is not satisfied with the decision, they can submit a form for a different committee to look at the book. The committee would include three parents and/or community members, three teachers and/or media specialists, one administrator, one social worker/school psychologist and one student. 

The parent who filed the complaint cannot be a part of the committee for that specific book. Members are expected to read the book and the committee will hold an anonymous vote to determine the book’s future.

Dearborn already allows parents to opt their children out of checking out a specific book or all books. 

Data reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed to this report.

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