RALEIGH — On March 14, the Moore County Public Schools Board held its regular monthly meeting which included discussion on the state’s Pre-K through fifth grade reading initiative and a vote on whether to keep the controversial book “George” in the county’s public school libraries.
The board revisited the recommendations made by the District Media and Technology Committee to keep the controversial book “George” in two of the district’s school libraries: McDeeds Creek Elementary and Union Pines High School.
The book has been heavily criticized by parents for its sexual content and transgender storyline. The book, written by Alex Gino, details a fourth-grade boy who believes he is a girl named Melissa. The publisher’s website claims the book is recommended for children ages 8 to 12 and the book has been re-released this year under the title “Melissa.”
The committee’s justification for keeping the book in McDeeds Elementary included a determination that “the book addresses positive messages about acceptance, diversity and inclusion.”
“Members of the team expressed that the media collection should reflect the diverse demographics and needs of its community and should provide resources representative of the many religious, ethnic, and cultural groups,” the justification reads.
Similarly, the committee deemed “George” to be “appropriate” for Union Pines High School, stating the book “focuses on relevant topics that high school students may encounter and expresses messages about acceptance, diversity and inclusion.”
Board member Robert Levy made two motions, one to remove “George” from McDeeds Creek Elementary and the other to remove it from Union Pines High.
The board voted 4-3 each time to keep “George” in Union Pines High school and McDeeds Elementary. Both times, members Robert Levy, David Hensley and Phillip Holmes voted for removal and Chair Pam Thompson along with members Libby Carter, Stacey Caldwell and Ed Dennison voted to keep the book.
Before the motion was officially voted on, member Stacey Caldwell said she personally believed “George” should be removed from elementary level schools but that it was appropriate for middle and high schools. She followed her remarks by saying “but those are my personal views, and this is why we follow protocols, procedures and form committees.”
“If the committees voted to keep the book at McDeeds Creek and Union Pines, then I need to honor that,” said Caldwell. “You may not agree with it, but we need to think about every student and not just our own.”
At the conclusion of Caldwell’s remarks, member Phillip Holmes interjected, “Excuse me, I have a little girl and I do not want her exposed to ‘penises bobbing in the water’.” His remarks received applause from parents in attendance.
Levy commented that “the bottom line is age appropriateness, especially in elementary schools.” He went on to describe theories involving gender and gender dysphoria and that they are not elementary school topics.
“What we want to do in the elementary schools is give a child a firm foundation,” said Levy. He went on to point out that the parents on the committees reviewing the book tended to vote to remove the book and that the student members of the committees abstained.
With regard to age appropriateness of the book, Levy also made the point that sex education doesn’t begin until middle school. He also noted that the reality is kids can pull a book from the shelves and read it without any filtering by parents or teachers.
Board member David Hensley agreed with Levy the book was age inappropriate for elementary students.
Chair Pam Thompson asked staff if “George” had been checked out, which it had been twice at McDeeds Creek by fourth and fifth graders but not at Union Pines High. Staff said that reviews of the book had “George” rated for grades four and higher.
“I surely hope that everybody that’s come here tonight to speak against this book has actually read this book, because it’s a quick read and one that will not make you strain your brain to get through it,” said board member Libby Carter.
“We talk on this board about reading proficiency and about being proficient, and yet we’re discussing limiting a child’s opportunity to maybe finally read something that calls to him,” Carter restated after initially being interrupted by boos and complaints from meeting attendees.
Carter tried to bolster her argument by claiming Levy had once remarked after touring a school media center that kids “need books that are about them.”