School board to take up explicit content flagged by parents in middle school library

A nearly packed room of engaged parents and residents respectfully voiced their concerns over explicit content in books at the Forestview Middle School library at the latest meeting of the Brainerd School Board.

“The reason is clear why there’s a criminal state statute making it illegal for sexual material to [go to] children because providing material to children is wrong,” Mark Olson, the first speaker, said in addressing the board. “No child benefits from having sexually explicit material in the school district libraries. And the public education system is once again deceiving its stakeholders — the taxpayers.”

But unlike what’s unfolded at so many other meetings over questionable content across the country, one school board member agreed with the concerns of residents and parents who spoke, expressing “shock” at what he heard.

“Something needs to be done. I’m shocked,” school board member DJ Dondelinger said following several parents’ comments. “I’m sure that there’s plenty of teachers and principals and everybody else in here that are shocked, too. … I think we should at least dig in and figure out what the hell’s going on here because we don’t need that crap.”

Dondelinger was reacting to portions of two books read by one of the residents who came before board members. The extraordinary meeting was covered by the Brainerd Dispatch.

The two books in question are “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini and “What Girls Are Made Of” by Elana K. Arnold. Speakers read excerpts from the books depicting both consensual and non-consensual sexual acts involving kids.

“We can talk about policies and statutes all night long,” resident Tony Bauer said. “But everyone in public education knows exactly what is going on and exactly why it’s going on. … Our children are being used as disposable sacrificial instruments deployed in order to transform America by way of divisive indoctrination and cruel manipulation.”

The speakers painstakingly made the case that providing explicit content to minors could be criminally liable in other circumstances and settings under state law.

“I urge you to not attempt the often repeated tactic of portraying this group of concerned citizens as wanting to, quote-unquote ‘ban books,’ or trample the First Amendment either as many will be tempted to do,” Bauer said. “In reality, what we want to do is restrict children who would be legally protected by criminal statute in any other public arena for being exposed to pornography or given access to pornography.”

The school district already places some restrictions on access to the books up for discussion, according to the paper.

Tim Murtha, director of teaching and learning at the district, confirmed in an email to the Dispatch the two books are not used instructionally or assigned to students. They are both on the mature readers list in the Forestview library, meaning they are only available to seventh and eighth grade students who have signed permission slips from parents.

Fifth and sixth grade students are not able to access the books, nor are older students if they do not have parental permission.

Nevertheless, the board agreed to discuss the issue at a forthcoming retreat and at its next meeting to the applause of the parents and residents in the room.