‘Moms for Liberty’ gets three books removed from Campbell County school libraries

By: - February 16, 2023 5:45 am

Campbell County’s public schools have removed three books from their libraries at the urging of Moms for Liberty, a group that says it is “dedicated to the survival of America” by defending parental rights.

But PEN America, a national organization founded in 1923 that defends and celebrates free expression, says the efforts by Moms for Liberty amount to book banning and can be dangerous.

Mirna Eads

Mirna Eads, a nurse who unsuccessfully ran for the state House as a Republican last year, is chair of the Campbell County chapter of Moms for Liberty.

It is part of a conservative nonprofit organization that was formed in Florida in 2021 that claims to advocate for parental rights in schools. Some of its chapters have campaigned against COVID-19 restrictions in schools and against school curriculums that mention LGBTQ rights, race, critical race theory and discrimination.

Eads said the Campbell chapter is non-partisan but some chapters across the nation have close ties to the Republican Party. Two other Kentucky counties – Jefferson and Boone – have chapters.

The Boone County chapter had its initial meeting Jan. 26, and about 50 people showed up. Karen Strayer is its chair. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Boone County Board of Education in 2022.

Karen Strayer

The Campbell County chapter, formed last August, has persuaded Campbell County’s high and middle schools to “remove from the shelves” three books and the schools are reviewing 17 others the group finds objectionable, said Eads.

“We don’t ban books. We challenge them,” said Eads.

Eads said most of these books have explicit sexual content and meet the guidelines of state law’s definition of pornography. That definition includes acts of masturbation, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, sexual intercourse, or deviant sexual intercourse, or physical contact with the genitals, flagellation, or excretion for the purpose of sexual stimulation or gratification.

The three books that have been removed from Campbell County schools, said Eads, are “Lucky” by Alice Seabold, a memoir about being raped as an 18-year-old college freshman at Syracuse University; “Tricks” by Ellen Hopkins, about five teenagers who fall into prostitution; and “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez, about a 1937 school explosion in Texas that includes child sexual abuse. The school district confirmed that the books had been removed.

“Out of Darkness” won the Michael L. Printz Award that annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit.

Also challenging ‘The Kite Runner’

Moms for Liberty has appealed the school system’s decision to retain “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, about a boy growing up in Afghanistan. It won critical praise and was on the New York Times best sellers list and was a major motion picture.

Eads said some schools are “getting around” the state definition of pornography because they contend the books are for educational purposes. “I don’t see how learning to give oral or anal sex, masturbate, fisting, or reading about the violent rape of a child in detail is educational,” she said.

“This is definitely not appropriate for school-age children.”

Eads said  a parent with her group checked with other schools and found that Fort Thomas Independent stated that it has none of the questioned books in its libraries and Newport Independent schools had not responded.

Eads said Simon Kenton High School obtained a list of the questioned books and now requires parental consent before students can check them out.

Eads bristles when the group’s efforts are branded book banning.

“We are only trying to make books available in school libraries that are appropriate to the children’s ages,” she said. “Some of these are worst than ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’”

How Campbell County schools deal with objections to books

Any time a resident of the Campbell County school district challenges a book or text in a school, the system follows a board policy, said Connie Pohlgeers, director of school improvements.

The policy involves an established review committee that works alongside the superintendent to review the materials that have been challenged.

Forms to challenge any materials in the school are available to any resident of the district at the principal’s office.

The request shall include a statement of reason for objection and a statement of desired action regarding the material.

The review committee, established by the superintendent, is made up of the principal, professional librarian(s), two staff members designated by the principal and whose subject area is affected and two parents.

All committee members shall represent the school receiving the complaint.

The committee makes a decision and the principal must inform the complainant in writing within 10 days of the decision. The complainant can appeal to the superintendent. The superintendent has to make a decision within 10 days. That decision can be appealed to the board.

The board will consider the appeal at the next scheduled meeting and notify the complainant of its final decision regarding the challenged material.

“We pride ourselves in working with families regarding any questions or concerns they may have,” said Superintendent Shelli Wilson.

Concerns of PEN America 

Kasey Meehan

Kasey Meehan, director of PEN America’s Freedom to Read project based in New York, said Moms for Liberty “certainly have the right to challenge school books.

“But they are super-organized and are going after books across the nation, especially those with LGBTQ characters and racism.

“It feels less like concern over age-appropriateness and more like control.”

She said Moms for Liberty chapters across the nation have banned classics like George Orwell’s “1984” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tales.”

And even one chapter objected to a children’s Bible, “because of adult stories in it.”

About 40 percent of the books Moms for Liberty object to nationwide involve LGBTQ characters, said Meehan. Eads said that is not true in Campbell County.

Meehan also said PEN America is seeing some state legislatures ban books in school.

Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, has introduced Senate Bill 5 in this year’s Kentucky General Assembly that would require local boards of education to adopt a complaint resolution policy to address parent complaints about materials that are harmful to minors.

It also would require the Kentucky Department of Education to come up with “model complaint” resolution policy.

PEN America recently released a report that found 2,532 instances of books being banned from July 2021 to June 2022. Book banning occurred in 138 school districts in 32 states. Texas reported the highest number with more than 751 books. The report listed the Moms for Liberty group as one of three leaders in banning books in the United States.

The group’s national website, www.momsforliberty.org/about/, includes a page that shows a smiling child with an American flag and the inscription, “Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom,” a quote by Founding Father John Adams.

This article is republished from the Northern Kentucky Tribune, a nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism.

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Jack Brammer
Jack Brammer

Jack Brammer, a native of Maysville, has been a news reporter in Kentucky since 1976. He worked two years for The Sentinel-News in Shelbyville and then from 1978 to 2021 in the Lexington Herald-Leader's Frankfort bureau. After retiring in December 2021 from the Herald-Leader, he became a freelance writer for various publications. Brammer has a Master's degree in communications from the University of Kentucky and is a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame.