Virginia Beach School Board Member Victoria Manning has challenged four books in the district’s libraries over sexually explicit content.

“I’ve been accused of wanting to ban books, burn books, etc.,” she told The Virginia Star in an email. “However, I am NOT asking for a ban on these books. I’m simply asking for sexually explicit and pornographic materials to not be made available to minors through our schools. If adults want to purchase these books or borrow them from the library then that is their business and their right. At the very least, parents should be made aware in advance of sexually explicit material and be required to OPT-IN for their children to be able to be provided these materials.”

Manning is challenging Gender Queer: a Memoir and Lawn Boy. Library advocates including the American Library Association (ALA) have expressed concern that books by Black authors or that include LGBTQ issues are often the focus of public school library review requests. In a similar review process, committees at the Fairfax County Public Schools recently reinstated both books.

She is also challenging Toni Morrison novel The Bluest Eye and Ernest Gaines novel A Lesson Before Dying, which are approved to be used in high school curriculum.

“These last two books may provide some positive aspects; however, there is sexually explicit material (some VERY graphic) in these books,” Manning wrote.

The challenge process is open to adult students, parents or legal guardians of minor students, and citizens of the school division. Parents and adult students can request to be exempted from course material. If the challenger wants the books removed from the district’s materials, the school officials will provide a form for reconsideration. Committees will assess the books and write a response to the Chief Academic Officer, who will notify the Superintendent and then the challenger of the results. The challenger can ask the school board chairman to review the decision from the committee.

According to school policy, library personnel are responsible for selecting library material, with the help of teachers, students, supervisors, and administrators. Library personnel also consult professional selection aids.

A Virginia Association of School Librarians statement reads in part, “We oppose censorship and the removal of library books, without following the policies and procedures set by the local school division.”

The statement adds, “We recognize that not every book is right for every reader. Parents have the right to set reading parameters and restrictions for their own children. However, no one person or group has the right to make choices for other children and every child should have access to books they may want to read. Ready access to a wide variety of reading materials increases the chances that learners will become readers and choose to read.”

Manning highlighted Code of Virginia Section 18.2-391, which states that it is illegal to sell, rent or loan sexually explicit books to juvenile, but the law includes an exemption for schools.

“It should be noted, that parents have come to VB School Board meetings and have read excerpts from the books mentioned above that have been approved for curriculum use. The School Board chair told them that they were not allowed to publicly use that type of language and gaveled down the parents,” Manning said. “If something is not allowed to be read in a school board meeting, why should it be allowed in curriculum?”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Victoria Manning” by Victoria Manning, Realtor Virginia Beach.