A Michigan school board meeting over book censorship and LGBTQ+ material was so intensely packed and hostile Monday that organizers had to call it off before parents and community members ever had the chance to make public comments.
The Dearborn Public School District, just outside of Detroit, held a crowded meeting Monday night that covered district funding, retirements and special education, among a number of other topics. However, the main focus was on the book challenging process and how to determine whether or not literature was appropriate for students.
The meeting was so tightly crammed that there weren’t enough chairs and some attendees had to sit on the floor. The board repeatedly reminded them to not block the podium for speakers.
Angry attendees paraded the meeting with anti-LGBTQ+ signs. Messages reading, “Keep Your Dirty Books in the Closet” and “Stop Grooming Our Kids” flooded the room, The Detroit News reported.
Police were present in case the meeting got out of control, according to local outlet WXYZ Detroit.
As the meeting started, board president Roxanne McDonald acknowledged that the school district had an “outdated book review process” when determining new materials for students. However, she said the board wanted to work with parents to ensure that all voices and concerns were heard in revising the plan.
“We want a system in place that is fair to all,” superintendent Dr. Glenn Maleyko said. “[We] want to respect the rights of all parents when we make these decisions.”
In September, Dearborn Public Schools temporarily pulled seven books—including the LGBTQ+ guidebook This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson—from the district after parents voiced concerns, WXYZ Detroit reported. Many of the pulled books contained LGBTQ+ material that parents argued was unsuitable for their children due to alleged sexually-explicit content.
Without specifically naming books that had been challenged, Maleyko said those books in question were at the high school level. Regardless, he said, all half-million books in district circulation would be reviewed in a “monumental task.”
“Our schools will continue to be welcoming safe places,” he added. “Our media centers [libraries] will reflect books on different topics.”
Dr. Ross Groover, a curriculum and professional development consultant, and Dearborn district executive director of student achievement Adam Martin gave a presentation that detailed the process of challenging books. They said the procedure for reviewing books correlated with the American Library Association’s book-approval guidelines. They also said parents have the right to opt their child out of certain reading material.
“Dearborn public schools believes that media materials containing graphic and/or gratuitous violence, sexual…content, expletives, or hate speech and without literary or educational merits should not be included in our media centers,” Martin said, prompting the room erupted in applause. “The goal is to make sure what we have in our media centers is appropriate for all of our students.”
“Opt[ing] out is a way to give parents control without breaking any laws,” Hussein Berry, a board member and parent, said after the presentation. “We can’t break any laws by trying to make everybody happy.”
District board member Adel Mozip added that librarians had been targeted by parents and labeled sexual groomers.
“This is a serious accusation and undermines our educators,” he told the crowd. Applause filled the room before a wave of boos interjected.
Just before public comments began, McDonald tried to explain rules for speakers. However, the unruly crowd booed the 3-minute time limit, with some claiming they were being restricted for opposing reading material.
“I have the right to set the time limits…” McDonald started.
“You have the right to sit there and tell us we can’t talk,” a person from the crowd interrupted. Shouts and applause followed.
Protesters previously gathered outside a Dearborn library in September to protest certain books in the school district. They hurled anti-LGBTQ+ slurs and carried signs accusing schools of brainwashing and grooming children with sexual material. One woman held a sign that read, “Keep your twisted mindset to yourself,” with a red X through the Pride flag.
The literary-censorship fight has gained steam rapidly across the country, with religious extremists at the forefront. Most are conservative-leaning Christians, but the debacle in Dearborn has been led by Muslim communities.
At Monday’s meeting, an attendee tried unsuccessfully to intervene during the mayhem to calm the crowd down, and alert them that the fire marshal said they were breaching fire code due to the heavy attendance. But the angry crowd didn’t seem to care and continued shouting their disappointment in the school board.
At that point, McDonald was unable to regain control of the meeting and announced that the meeting would be in recess until the board could find a larger location. Boos filled the room after the meeting closed.
The Detroit Free Press reported that the rowdy crowd didn’t calm down until Dearborn police chief Issa Shahin stepped in.
“We can have a spirited debate, but we can't conduct ourselves this way,” he told the crowd. “This community is better than this. We're brothers and sisters regardless of race, ethnicity, religion.”
Dearborn schools director of communications David Mustonen told The Daily Beast that no one was injured during the meeting.
According to the district website, Dearborn is the third largest school system in Michigan with 20,000 students and 37 schools.
In an Oct. 5 news release, the district informed parents that they could restrict their children’s book access through an online portal.
“Parents can use the form to keep their child from accessing certain materials or to completely opt their child out of checking any items out of the media centers,” the statement read. “This is similar to the option parents have long had to pull their child from reproductive health classes.”
The district confirmed the board meeting is expected to continue Thursday evening.