VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Librarians have become the latest target of those looking to challenge books inside Virginia Beach City Public Schools.
Last week, attorney and Del. Tim Anderson, (R-Virginia Beach) filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request asking for the identity of the head librarian of each school where seven select books he believes can be found. He said all the books were brought to him by parents, concerned about the sexual content contained within.
This comes after Anderson filed a suit demanding a judge ordered two of the books only be given to students with advanced parental consent.
However, following several years of increased threats toward those in public education, there is concern about what Anderson will do with the names of the librarians.
A push to remove certain books from school libraries is a part of a larger nationwide effort by conservatives to make public education a key political issue. Driven by the same parents who first packed school board meetings to express their opposition to mask mandates and other COVID-19 measures, the focus has shifted to going after content that clashes with conservative values.
That includes teaching about social justice, gender, race, history and sexual content.
The strategy proved successful last November, as Gov. Glenn Youngkin, (R-Va.) rode to election victory on advocating for “parental rights.”
In Virginia Beach, book reviews were triggered last year and recently one, entitled “Gender Queer,” was ousted by the School Board. The book touted as “a useful and touching guide on gender identity” contained sketches of graphic sexual acts.
Anderson wants to know how the books, which also include “Lawn Boy,” “A Court of Mist and Fury” and “Saga” ended up in the school libraries in the first place. Several contain depictions of explicit sexual scenes.
“If a librarian can just put anything they want in this library, we have big concerns with that,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s FOIA asks for all documents related to the approval of books in VBCPS as well as how long they have been there and how many libraries they are located in.
“It doesn’t make any sense that a book like a Court of Mist and Fury which is so graphic, is [at Lynnhaven Middle School]. But not in the other middle schools,” Anderson said. “We are trying to get to the bottom with that, we want to know who the librarians are, what role they have in this process. How this all works in Virginia Beach … completely inappropriate for a sixth grader to walk in there, get that book without their parents having any say.”
Anderson is representing Tommy Altman, a military Veteran turned tattoo artist who is one of four candidates seeking the Republican nomination for Virginia’s second congressional district.
Altman is looking for Virginia Beach Circuit Court to issue a restraining order against Barnes and Noble bookstores to prohibit the sale of both “Gender Queer” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” to minors. He seeks a separate order barring VBCPS from loaning the book to minors directly.
While Anderson said Barnes and Noble has yet to respond to the suit, in a statement VBCPS indicated they don’t believe they are party to the suit initially filed regarding the books.
“The School Board and the School Division are not parties to the Petition For Declarations for Adjudication of Obscenity Pursuant to 18.2-384 of the Code of Virginia,” John Sutton, speaking for the district, said in a statement. “After consultation with the School Board, the School Board’s legal counsel will address with the Court the applicability of this law to the School Board and the School Division.”
Kathleen Slinde, president of the Virginia Beach Education Association, which represents some teachers in the district, said she has heard some concerns from librarians.
“VBEA fully supports our librarians and media specialists in their professional capacity to make decisions they have been trained to make,” Slinde said.
When asked if he plans to publish individual librarians’ names, Anderson said it depends on what he finds out. Anderson has a large Facebook following and is savvy when rallying his base towards certain causes.
“It’s about holding people accountable for their actions,” Anderson said. “It’s either the librarians are acting rogue and they are violating policy that exists. Or there is wrongful policy in place. We are taking on the system.”