Inclusion of ‘Gender Queer’ novel on Barrington School District’s reading list sparks debate

The inclusion of a controversial book on a college summer reading list has fueled outrage among some parents in School District 220 in the Barrington Community Unit.

Maia Kobabe’s “Gender Queer” graphic novel sparked similar debates in schools across the country, including Downers Grove High School District 99 and Antioch Community High School District 117. Earlier this year, the American Library Association reported named “Gender Queer” the most contested book of 2021.

The book was part of the library collection at Barrington High School but is currently being evaluated by a district review board made up of a parent, administrator, teacher, and education specialist. school library information, officials said Thursday.

The review could lead to leaving it on the shelf, reclassifying it, restricting it, or removing it from the collection.

In a letter to the school district community on Thursday, Superintendent Robert Hunt said the controversy stemmed from an email sent to middle school parents encouraging students to read during the summer. The email included links to two book award lists created by the American Association of Illinois School Library Educators: the 2023 Rebecca Caudill Young Readers’ Book Award and the 2023 Illinois Lincoln Award List.

“Gender Queer,” a memoir about struggling with self-identity and becoming genderless and non-binary to family and friends, appears on the Lincoln List.

Hunt said the email explained that some of the books on the Lincoln List contained adult content “that is not appropriate for younger students.”


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

The book is not part of the district curriculum, used in any teaching materials, or available in college libraries, Hunt wrote.

“While as a school district we do not want to censor the texts available in our libraries, we must be mindful of both relevance and age appropriateness,” he wrote.

Hunt’s letter follows a contentious Tuesday night school board meeting in which many parents spoke out against the book’s inclusion on the summer reading list and in the high school library. One of them held up a sign with the word “PORN” crossed out above the phrase “in our schools”.

“This is exactly (how) I would expect a pedophile to behave when approaching a child to normalize their sexual behavior, to abuse them,” said Nelda Munoz, who has children in fourth and sixth grade, after reading a passage from the novel. “Stop sexualizing our children. Stop abusing them.”

Sylvia Thoman, who has a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old in the district, said children’s brains haven’t developed enough psychologically or emotionally to fully interpret mature content.

“Our school libraries are not public libraries,” she said. “Schools are meant to be safe environments for our children. This pornographic content has no place in our schools.”

But another parent, Rachel Tuerck, said those who oppose the book should not decide what students from other families read.

“You can be very attached to a book, but your parenting ends with your children,” said Tuerck, whose children include two Barrington High graduates and an incoming freshman. “Your parental authority does not extend to other people’s children. Your parental authority does not extend to other adults. I may agree with some of the points raised here tonight. But I want to decide for myself- I don’t appreciate other people deciding to ban books in my name.”

Irene B. Bowles