Fairfax County Public Schools has pulled two books from its shelves after a local mom complained to the school board that the titles contain graphic sexual content and pedophelia.
A spokesperson for FCPS confirmed to FFXnow that “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe have been temporarily pulled from shelves.
Two committees under the supervision of the school system’s library service coordinator will assess the suitability of both texts for high school libraries. The committee will include representation from staff, students, and parents, according to the spokesperson.
“The recommendation of the committees will be put forward to the Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services who will make a final decision as to whether FCPS continues to provide access to these books in our high school libraries,” the spokesperson said.
Stacy Langton, a Fairfax County mother, held up content from the books at a heated Sept. 23 school board meeting. The material — which was blurred in a recording of the meeting — included details of a man having sex with a boy, oral sex, masturbation, and nudity.
“Pornography is offensive to all people,” Langston said. The recording also muted Langton’s descriptions of the books’ content, which she said includes a scene in which a 10-year-old boy recounts sucking an adult man’s penis.
A Patch review of the two books disputed that characterization, reporting that “Lawn Boy” — a coming-of-age novel about a Mexican landscaper — contains no scenes of adults having sex with minors and that the illustration that drew objections in “Gender Queer,” an autobiography, appears in the context of the author’s teenage fantasy.
Another county resident and former FCPS teacher — Adrienne Henzel — said she was appalled by what she described as “homo-erotic material” supported by county taxpayer dollars.
FCPS Pride, an employees’ group that represents the LGBTQIA+ community and formed in 2015, said the inclusion of books that represent “oft-excluded communities such as LGBTQIA+ and other marginalized groups” help feel students more welcome and safer. LGBTQIA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer and questioning, and asexual.
“These books are ‘mirrors and windows’ as they ‘tell a story’ to give a window on a community that a reader may not belong to, and they share a narrative with which a given student may identify,” said Robert Rigby, co-president of FCPS Pride and an FCPS high school teacher.
Rigby told FFXnow that FCPS Pride is thankful for librarians who have established catalogs and collections that include all communities — especially marginalized ones.
Langton’s comments drew several objections from Springfield District board member Laura Jane Cohen, who noted that there were children in the room and that the books are available only in high schools.
She was cut off when she went over the three-minute time limit for public comments and refused to leave the podium for the next speaker, prompting the school board to take a five-minute recess “to clear the room.”
The incident was picked up by several conservative-leaning national news outlets and flagged by Asra Nomani, vice president of strategy and investigations for Parents Defending Education, a recently formed nonprofit organization that fights what it calls “indoctrination” in education. Read More
Over a month into the current school year, Fairfax County Public Schools is grappling with two key issues: how to recruit and retain staff, especially in special education and transportation, and how to feed students.
FCPS officials have said shortages in those areas are affecting the rest of the country, while supply chain issues have resulted in more students getting fewer choices to pick from in school cafeterias, thanks in part to free meals becoming available to all students.
When it comes to staff retention, the Fairfax County School Board approved some immediate relief at its regular meeting on Thursday (Sept. 23), increasing seasoned bus drivers’ salaries by 2.5%. The change will show up in their paychecks starting Oct. 23.
The change excludes new bus drivers who got a pay boost in August when the board voted to increase starting hourly rates from $19.58 to $22.91.
“Attract is one thing, but retain is something altogether different,” Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen said.
In consultation with stakeholders, FCPS is conducting an in-depth market compensation study that it plans to finish by the end of the school year. The need to retain experienced bus drivers will only grow in urgency, as 25% will become eligible to retire.
FCPS also offers a $3,000 signing bonus, and Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the changes have boosted applications from about five to seven per week to an additional 20-50 each week.
Meanwhile, as of Sept. 15, FCPS had 133 teaching vacancies, nearly half of them in special education, according to Karen Corbett-Sanders, the school board’s Mount Vernon District representative.
Brabrand has suggested that state requirements for special education teachers need to be adjusted to ease the process for existing teachers, saying Thursday that he plans to bring the school board more information later to help its advocacy efforts.
School systems nationwide have reported bus driver deficits as potential hires turn to higher-paying commercial jobs, among other factors.
However, the commercial driving sector is experiencing labor shortages of its own, which are colliding with supply chain disruptions and increased student demand to create problems in school cafeterias.
In its annual “Opening of Schools” report, FCPS says it is now serving some 138,000 students per day — about 28,000 more than before the pandemic. Brabrand reported on Thursday that the school system distributed a record number of meals the previous week, when 150,000 students used its food services.
Mason District School Board Representative Ricardy Anderson noted that families have raised concerns and wondered about the quality of the food. Department of Financial Services Assistant Superintendent Leigh Burden said the issues have affected the number of the options available to students, but not the quality.
“We’ve had to double down on some of our oldies but goodies like pizza, which maybe doesn’t make students upset, but we want to continue to fully implement the food and nutrition health guidelines,” Brabrand said.
Anderson said knowing about the supply chain issues could help families better understand the situation that FCPS is facing.
(Updated at 9:45 a.m.) FCPS is ramping up efforts to provide on-site testing and prepare for vaccinations for elementary school-aged kids, including by enlisting a third party that hasn’t been publicly identified yet.
Although the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines for kids ages 5-11, Pfizer says its vaccine is safe for that age range, and it could obtain authorization in October.
That will open up vaccinations to an additional 87,693 FCPS students, according to Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the Fairfax County School Board.
As part of its preparations, FCPS is developing a survey for families to determine what their needs are and how it can best respond, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services Michelle Boyd said at a school board meeting on Thursday (Sept. 23).
The survey will ask questions such as:
- Whether parents would be okay with students getting vaccinated during the school day without their presence
- Whether they would be interested in participating in clinics with their children
- Whether they would prefer their primary medical provider to vaccinate students
Meren told FFXnow that the survey is a step in the right direction, but there needs to be more done.
She is proposing that FCPS work with community partners, including public health officials and medical providers, to develop a plan for how to use different resources like bloodmobile services to deliver vaccinations.
Her motion calls for convening “community stakeholders to plan for mass distribution of children’s vaccines in Fairfax County, so that vaccines are accessible to families in accordance with families’ personal decisions about vaccinating children.”
Meren noted that pediatricians’ offices are already overwhelmed, and she wants FCPS to look at ways to be best prepared, noting that schools have had to take on an unprecedented public health role.
“The school division is being tasked with really stepping up in ways that have never been seen before in terms of public health,” Meren said at the school board meeting.
Meren also proposed that the school board direct Brabrand to create a Department of Special Services staff position to help the assistant superintendent manage public health-related work in FCPS.
Since both items were introduced as new business, meaning that they weren’t up for discussion or action, the school board will address them at its next regular meeting on Oct. 7.
At the same time, FCPS is continuing to tackle issues related to its existing COVID-19 health procedures, primarily when it comes to disruptions to in-person learning.
“We’ve already got some kids entering their second quarantine,” FCPS Superintendent Brabrand said during the school board meeting. “28 days without a teacher or instruction is not something we can do.”
Out of roughly 178,000 students, FCPS has recorded 818 positive COVID-19 cases in August and September as of yesterday (Sunday).
While noting that student transmission of the virus is low, Brabrand reiterated at the school board meeting that FCPS is continuing to look at ways to improve its COVID-19 communication policies and procedures.
Braddock District School Board Representative Megan McLaughlin said she wants FCPS to show it’s serious about helping minimize the time that students are not in school, noting that Loudoun County Public Schools has reduced its mandated quarantine period from 14 to 10 days.
Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu recommended 14 days at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting last Tuesday (Sept. 21), stating that the 10-day alternative allowed by the CDC carries an estimated 10% increase in the risk of post-quarantine transmission.
Starting this week, FCPS is offering an online platform where students who have to be paused, quarantined, or isolated due to a COVID-19 infection or exposure can live-stream in-person classes.
However, FCPS has otherwise declined to expand its virtual options, despite requests from many community members, including several speakers who delivered remarks during the community participation portion of Thursday’s board meeting.
“We simply don’t have the staff,” Brabrand said. “We don’t even have the staff right now to operate full in person. We’re strained to provide staffing for the limited virtual that we have, per CDC guidelines for students with diagnosed medical and health needs.”
He added that the area school systems like Prince George’s and Arlington counties that have offered broader virtual programs have significant wait lists or are filling up to 40 to 50% of their staff positions with substitute teachers.