Bonita USD book ban effort falls short … for now
By Andrew Alonzo | firstname.lastname@example.org
The last two months have been a whirlwind for Bonita Unified School District parent Matthew Lyons.
On June 7, Lyons and his family watched his son graduate from Bonita High, weeks after he learned about efforts by a group of BUSD parents to ban some books available to students, prompting him to help organize a counter-effort.
A group of parents dubbed “Informed Parents of BUSD” recently filed paperwork challenging three books available to students through the school district’s libraries, including “I Am Jazz,” by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings; “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison; and “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” by Susan Kuklin.
The titles include discussions of LGBTQ+ themes, racism, incest, child molestation, and other sensitive subjects. Each has routinely appeared on the American Library Association’s most challenged books list.
“The Bluest Eye” was third on the ALA’s top 13 most challenged books list in 2022 with 73 challenges. “I Am Jazz” ranked sixth in 2019. According to National Public Radio, “Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out,” is banned from school library shelves in 11 U.S. school districts.
Lyons leads the group “Informed Readers of BUSD.”
“I wasn’t familiar with the books, so I quickly ordered them online and read a few of them to familiarize myself with the books,” Lyons said Wednesday. “When I was done reading the books, I was scratching my head going, ‘Okay, why are these books being targeted?’”
Informed Parents of BUSD challenged the material under BUSD board policy 1312.2, claiming the materials were not appropriate for certain grade levels. The Courier reached out to the group for comment but did not hear back by press time Thursday.
“The question … is whether or not certain materials are appropriate for certain grade levels,” BUSD Superintendent Matt Wien said on Tuesday.
Public comment at recent BUSD board meetings has been heated.
“We need to not have these [books] in a school library,” said Tami Brown-Gedigian on May 3 after reading excerpts from Kuklin’s book. “It’s fine, go to a public library if you want to read that stuff, this is a free country. But don’t push this on my kids.”
Elizabeth Otto, another BUSD parent, read a passage from Kuklin’s book that included opinions about male genitalia.
“How pathetic have we become as a society to groom children into such perversion?” Otto said at the May 3 meeting. “What kind of adults are being allowed to write books for our children? We send our children to school to receive the highest level of education, not sex. Having books like this in our school’s library is an encouragement for kids to engage in sexual activity with consequences of sexual bullies, pregnancies, [sexually transmitted diseases], depression and suicidal tendencies — and not focusing on education. Leave our children to be taught about sex from their parents.”
About five people spoke out against the proposed ban at the Wednesday BUSD board meeting, including Erin Duffy.
“While these books may be uncomfortable for some to read, they are reflective of the world in which we live and the breadth of human experiences,” Duffy said. “Parents can guide their own child’s library selections through conversations and the strength of parent-child relationships, but books should not be restricted.”
Raymond McDonald, a BUSD parent and one of the organizers behind Informed Readers of BUSD told the Courier Wednesday, “We’re not talking about books. If you cancel the idea of a person in a library and their voices and narratives, then you essentially cancel the idea of that person.”
Superintendent Wien met privately with both groups to run through the district’s 1312.2 policy over the past three weeks. He walked the Courier through the same process Tuesday, which begins with an informal complaint from a BUSD parent, resident, or staff member to a school principal. Should the complainant not be satisfied with the principal’s initial response, a written complaint may be filed, which often triggers an investigation. Then “The Superintendent or designee shall determine whether a review committee should be convened to review the complaint,” reads the 1312.2 form. “If the Superintendent or designee determines that a review committee is not necessary, he/she shall issue a decision regarding the complaint.”
Wien said in the recent cases a review committee deemed the books appropriate for students in the varying grade levels. Despite appeals, Wien said all the books are currently available on BUSD library shelves.
“Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out” still has an appeal window open but no action had been taken by press time. The appeal for “I Am Jazz” for elementary school readers was not successful. An appeal to Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” made it through the process with a final decision by the BUSD Board of Education due at its 6 p.m. June 28 meeting at 115 W. Allen Ave., San Dimas.
Officials anticipate a turbulent, vocal conclusion to the matter, in keeping with how the last few weeks have played out between both parties.
Informed Parents of BUSD has been active online since September 2022, and has amassed 749 followers on Instagram. The group previously celebrated an amendment to Assembly Bill 659, which dropped a mandate requiring students from eighth to 12th grade be vaccinated for human papillomavirus. It is currently advocating against AB 957, which reads in part, “This bill, for purposes of this provision, would include a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity as part of the health, safety, and welfare of the child.” If passed AB 957 would amend Section 3011 of the Family Code, relating to family law.
A March 13 post calls others to join the group “in demanding that these books be physically removed and the digital access restricted from BUSD libraries.”
The post then questions how the trio of books and others “nurtures intellect and creates a safe learning environment for our children? Desensitizing minors to s*xual acts, s*xual violence, p*dophilia, and dr*g use and blurring the truth of male and female biological differences will only erode their innocence and ability to think critically, and it will break down every moral boundary we have to protect and raise healthy happy children — this cannot continue.”
A June 1 letter from Governor Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Rob Bonta and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmand (viewable at gov.ca.gov/newsroom) reiterated current educational rights with respect to materials, providing some reassurance to Informed Readers of BUSD. It read in part, “Access to books — including books that reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of Californians, and especially those that may challenge us to grapple with uncomfortable truths — is a profound freedom we all must protect and cultivate.”
“I don’t believe the fight ends here,” McDonald said. “We know that there’s a 12-month limit and then they [Informed Parents] can appeal again. Now if it goes against us, it can be appealed to the state for discriminatory bias. And then it’s whether Governor Newson, [Attorney General] Bonta … or State Superintendent Thurmand will back up and make sure that they process the appeals in a timely manner.”