S.C. governor wants to investigate obscenity in school libraries after concerns about book from Fort Mill parents

The governor made the request in a letter to Superintendent Spearman after he says he received examples of pornographic materials found in schools from concerned parents in Fort Mill.
"Gender Queer: A Memoir" was written two and a half years ago, but the book banning review process did not start until the end of September.
Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 5:20 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2021 at 6:07 PM EST
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FORT MILL, S.C. (WBTV) - South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster wants to investigate obscene materials in public school libraries after receiving concerns from parents in Fort Mill about a specific book.

Gov. McMaster has requested that South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman immediately begin a comprehensive investigation into the presence of obscene and pornographic materials in public schools in South Carolina.

The governor made the request in a letter to Superintendent Spearman after he says he received examples of pornographic materials found in schools from concerned parents in Fort Mill.

“I mean we’re all growing up it ain’t that serious,” says one student.

“Well that’s inappropriate for a school,” says another.

A spokesperson with the district says a parent submitted a complaint about the book. The book called Gender Queer: A Memoir was available in all three of the high schools through the online book catalog. Only high school students had access through the book catalog, meaning elementary and middle school students couldn not check it out.

District policy says books that have complaints go under the district’s review process. The district says “The book has been removed from circulation in two high school media centers and through our online catalog while the review process is completed.” There is not a set time when that review will end.

In addition, the governor has notified the State Law Enforcement Division to evaluate whether any state laws have been broken as a result.

“By way of example, it is my understanding that concerned parents were recently required to petition the Fort Mill School District to remove a book from a school’s physical or digital library, titled “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe, Governor McMaster wrote in the letter. “If school personnel had performed even a cursory review in this particular instance, it would have revealed that the book contains sexually explicit and pornographic depictions, which easily meet or exceed the statutory definition of obscenity. Thus, I am concerned that further examination may identify additional instances in which inappropriate materials have been introduced into our State’s public schools.”

WBTV did not show the explicit imagery in the book, where sex acts are depicted, but other pages show the book is illustrated in the way a comic book is.

“I don’t think they would really get mad. They’d just be surprised that it is at a school,” says one student about how he thinks his parents would react to the book.

“I mean it’s childish if you get made because a book got some porn on it,” says the first student.

The governor also called on the Department of Education or the State Board of Education to promulgate statewide standards and directives to prevent pornography from entering the state’s public schools and to identify any materials that may already be in school libraries.

“For sexually explicit materials of this nature to have ever been introduced or allowed in South Carolina’s schools, it is obvious that there is or was either a lack of, or a complete breakdown in, any existing oversight processes or the absence of appropriate screening standards. Therefore, I respectfully request that the Department of Education promptly investigate this matter, on a statewide basis, and identify whether any systemic policy or procedural deficiencies exist at the state or local levels, or both,” The governor continued.

The Department of Education says books in libraries are not funded by the state or go through the state’s vetting process.

But the agency says that doesn’t mean districts shouldn’t have their own.

The governor referred the matter to Chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, Mark Keel, writing: “I trust you agree that pornography and obscenity have no place in our State’s public schools, much less in their libraries. Aside from being deeply disturbing and manifestly inappropriate, it is likely illegal under South Carolina law. Accordingly, by copy of this letter, I am simultaneously notifying the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division of this matter for further evaluation.”

Gender Queer: A Memoir was written two and a half years ago but the book banning review process did not start until the end of September. The book was first banned in Fairfax County, Virginia when parents took it to the school board.

Since then, several other states have banned it—Rhode Island, New Jersey, Washington, Ohio and Texas. So that brings it to South Carolina where the South Carolina Department of Education started their own investigation last week.

A spokesperson says “...books located in libraries and media centers are not funded by and do not go through the state instructional materials process. They are selected by local school and district officials.”

The Department of Ed says all books should be age and content appropriate. The author says the book commonly gets called pornography which is “a common accusation against work with themes of queer sexuality.” In an op-ed article the author of the Gender Queer: A Memoir book wrote “Removing or restricting queer books in libraries and schools is like cutting a lifeline for queer youth, who might not yet even know what terms to ask Google to find out more about their own identities, bodies and health.”

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