Parents of middle school students in the Upper Arlington Schools in Ohio reported to Libs of TikTok that a “non-binary” youth librarian’s presentation to sixth-grade students involved asking them whether they might be of a different gender and whether they feel safe discussing these thoughts at home.
According to the report by Libs of TikTok, on October 13, the Grade 6 English Language Arts (ELA) teachers of Hastings Middle School partnered with the Upper Arlington Public Library (UAPL) to ask youth librarian Alexx Burris to make recommendations to students for books on the topic of “Coming of Age.”
The report noted:
During the presentation, Burris reportedly recommended 9 books in total but focused on two books. Most notably, Anna on the Edge whose main character is introduced to and explores her gender fluidity. According to a parent whose child was present for the discussion, the youth librarian proceeded to identify herself as non-binary and proceeded to question the children on their understanding of the terms non-binary and transgender.
Amazon describes Anna on the Edge, by A.J. Sass as “a heartfelt coming of age story about a nonbinary character navigating a binary world.”
The book focuses on 12-year-old top figure skater Ana-Marie Jin who befriends a transgender boy and then begins to believe she may be transgender as well.
Parents reported to Libs of TikTok that, during at least one of the presentations to the children, Burris “asked whether any children in the room thought they might be a different gender and whether they have a safe place to discuss these thoughts at home.”
Parents began contacting the school to voice their concerns.
“My husband and I immediately contacted the principal who was unaware of the guest in the school as well as the books and subject matter being discussed,” one parent expressed to Libs of TikTok.
“[We need to let this] community know what is happening within our schools,” another parent said. “Because right now, there are a lot of parents that have no idea what their kids are being exposed to on a daily basis. Adults need to start protecting our children from this constant bombardment of gender confusion and sexuality.”
The firestorm over the availability of highly sexual material that is accessible to children in school libraries has continued to rage following the election of a self-described “Marxist lesbian” as the American Library Association’s (ALA) next president.
ICYMI: The American Library Association (ALA) just elected a self-described Marxist as its new president. Not what you want to see for the future of libraries. pic.twitter.com/kvbenTv07o
— The Based Librarian (@BasedLibrarian) April 15, 2022
Idaho native Emily Drabinski ran her campaign for ALA president on “collective power” and “public good.”
“As ALA president, I will direct resources and opportunities to a diverse cross section of the association and advance a public agenda that puts organizing for justice at the center of library work,” she vowed.
In a television interview with KTVB 7, Drabinski said she found outrage by parents over sexually explicit books in school libraries and the subsequent cutting of the Idaho library system’s budget by $3.8 million to be “scary,” and that the idea that public libraries are “sort of pushing pornographic materials on our patrons – and it’s really not, not what we do at all … there’s no big library agenda.”
In July 2021, however, Drabinski conducted a presentation titled “Teaching the Radical Catalog,” in which she referred to the idea of introducing multiple gender identities into the library catalog system as part of “critical thinking.”
At one point during the presentation, she lamented that “heterosexuality is not named, but implied,” because “it is the norm that does not need to identify itself and against which everything else must be understood and defined.”
During her campaign for her new post, Drabinski received the endorsement of American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
“In the face of increasing challenges to school library books and teachers’ curricula, we need a strong American Library Association defending free inquiry in our shared pursuit of the public good,” Weingarten said. “Emily Drabinski knows how to organize and mobilize on behalf of library workers and our communities.”
Mike Robertson, principal at Hastings Middle School, wrote to the sixth-grade parents 12 days after the youth librarian’s presentation, explaining some parents expressed concern that the books to be discussed with their children were not shared in advance with them in order to give them the opportunity to opt their children out of the program.
Robertson said the district had opened an investigation “in coordination with legal counsel to determine the facts of this situation and will ensure that the report is a public record available at the conclusion of the investigation.”
Youth librarian Burris locked her social media account after the school district launched its investigation, Libs of TikTok reported.
One month later, parents received results of an investigation by Matthew J. Jordan, director of Human Resources, sent to Dr. Paul Imhoff, Upper Arlington City School District Superintendent.
The report noted Robertson admitted that, while he had discussed with some school staff that materials involving controversial topics needed to be presented to parents to allow them the opportunity to opt out, he did not have this conversation with his Grade 6 ELA staff.
Jordan wrote in his report:
In my interviews with the teachers and library media specialist, all claimed to have no awareness of Board Policy requiring a review or approval of non-District materials. They explained that they did not consider reviewing the books that would be brought from the UAPL because it is a “public library” and the books were recommended by the youth librarian. The three individuals likewise did not have an awareness that guest speakers must be approved by the building principal in advance. Of the staff interviewed, only one indicated a belief that any of the material discussed could be considered controversial by some in the community. That individual, the media clerk, said that she said to the library media specialist after the first few book review sessions “this is terrible.” She said what she meant by that was that she felt like the overall content of the books discussed was depressing and/or negative. The library media specialist did not react to her comment and there was no discussion. There was no discussion of any concerns by any of the teachers or staff after the book talks, either.
“The two books identified in parent complaints included topics of gender identity and drug abuse,” Jordan continued. “Although the books were not identified in advance, they were all age-appropriate for the sixth grade class and came from the UAPL’s youth selection.”
“It is also my conclusion that, although their jobs require them to be aware of Board Policies and Guidelines, the Hastings staff were not aware of these requirements enough to trigger a consideration by any of those individuals involved in the book talk,” he concluded.
Libs of TikTok commented:
And that was it. There was no further communication from the school. There was no apology for the promotion of gender fluidity to 11 and 12-year-olds. More alarming, there was no corrective action, no policy change, and no consequences for staff who exposed these children to confusing topics behind their parents’ backs.
“Most of our community is in the dark about the books in elementary classrooms, the middle school presentations, the asking of pronouns, teachers having conversations with individual kids about whether or not they are transgender without parental knowledge, signs in bathrooms saying they can’t use it if they are anti-LGBTQ or don’t like using a gender-neutral bathroom,” one parent told Libs of TikTok. “All of which is happening in our schools and is documented.”
The Star News Network reached out to Superintendent Imhoff for comment and is awaiting a response.
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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].