Jack of Hearts and Other Parts will stay on the shelf at Mayfield High School

The book Jack of Hearts and Other Parts, deemed controversial by many, will stay on the shelf at Mayfield High School after the Las Cruces Public Schools Board of Education voted to deny an appeal for removal from two parents who petitioned to have it removed for its alleged pervasive and vulgar language.

The book, which talks about the sexual experiences of some LGBTQ+ youth, was first brought to the board’s attention by parents Sarah Smith and Juan Garcia. Both continuously spoke out about the book beginning in July during public comment at school board meetings.

Smith filed an official complaint with the district on Aug. 10, 2023, arguing the language and content of the book was not age appropriate for high school freshmen and sophomores and should be removed from the Mayfield High School library.

“Contrary to what the news media and others are saying, we did not file this complaint because of the LGBTQ+ content of the book,” Smith told the board at the Dec. 8 hearing. “We are not anti-gay; not anti-trans and we would have had the same objections to this book if it had been written about straight characters and straight sex.”

Sarah Smith, parent who filed the Jack of Hearts and Other Parts complaint, speaks to the Las Cruces school board during an appeal hearing on Dec.8. 2023.
Sarah Smith, parent who filed the Jack of Hearts and Other Parts complaint, speaks to the Las Cruces school board during an appeal hearing on Dec.8. 2023.

Under district policy, legitimate complaints regarding library materials are required to undergo a review process by a diversified committee. A recommendation is then sent to the superintendent for a final decision which may be appealed to the school board for a final vote.

That process lasted a few weeks leading up to the appeal hearing on Dec. 8, 2023, in front of the five-member school board. The review committee and superintendent ultimately recommended the book remain available to the student population at the high school.

Here’s a breakdown of what transpired going into the final vote and what the author has said about his own book.

Las Cruces Superintendent Ignacio Ruiz acts to keep book available to students

In a two-page letter provided to the Sun-News by Las Cruces Public Schools, Superintendent Ignacio Ruíz wrote to Smith on Nov. 6, 2023 regarding her complaint. Ruiz outlined his objection based on policy and constitutional basis to the removal of the book.

He said that removal of the book would violate the district's KEC Policy which states “at no time will the wishes of one child’s parents to restrict his/her reading or viewing of a particular item infringe on other parents’ rights to permit their children to read or view the same material.”

Ruiz also referred to Board of Education v. Pico, a U.S. Supreme Court decision which laid out guidelines for free speech in school libraries. The case states that materials cannot be removed by a school board despite disagreement with the content or viewpoints.

“I recognize and appreciate that you find some of the language in Jack of Hearts and Other Parts to be objectionable because it is sexually explicit,” Ruiz wrote to Smith. “In my assessment when taken as a whole, the book is not 'pervasively vulgar.' While the book does contain sexually explicit content, it also discusses important issues like responsible sex, informed consent, and setting personal boundaries within sexual relationships … the book also contains positive student relationships with adults, it models empathy, and grapples with how to handle harassment, gossip, and threats from classmates.”

Ruiz went on to write that access to the book may be limited by parents on their terms. The district’s sole copy would remain at Mayfield, he wrote.

“I agree, it is not a book for younger students which is why it’s not found in those libraries,” Ruiz wrote. “LCPS currently allows any parent to set further boundaries or limits on the school library books that can be checked out by their children, so parents who wish to do so, can make those choices about the book and their own children.”

Las Cruces school board votes 5-0 to keep Jack of Hearts

After listening to Smith present her concerns to the board, board members shared their thoughts on the book’s content and responded to some of Smith’s claims of the book’s alleged inappropriateness and pervasiveness. Members were required to read the book in its entirety in preparation for the hearing.

“Reading about someone whose religion, race, sexuality and or lifestyle is different than our own, helps us develop a better understanding of the world and empathy for other people,” said member Carol Cooper during the hearing. “On the other hand, sometimes books act as mirrors reflecting the reader or the world they live in. It can be empowering when someone makes a personal connection to the book because they see some aspect of their life in the in the pages.”

Cooper, who said she braced herself when reading the book based on Smith’s and Garcia’s claims, explained that she didn’t find the content to be overly sexual but rather informative of the struggle teens go through in their development.

She also said keeping the book drives inclusiveness and ensures marginalized or stereotyped students, which are described in the book, aren’t left out or disregarded by having it removed.

Las Cruces school board president Teresa Tenorio tears up during her remarks at a Dec.8 appeal hearing for the book Jack of Hearts and Other Parts. Tenorio explained the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion within the district.
Las Cruces school board president Teresa Tenorio tears up during her remarks at a Dec.8 appeal hearing for the book Jack of Hearts and Other Parts. Tenorio explained the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion within the district.

Board president Teresa Tenorio, who became emotional during her remarks, echoed Cooper’s sentiments and said that LCPS students and staff shouldn’t have to feel like they’re not good enough to have accessible materials that reflect them or their diversified experiences.

“I felt strongly that I could not set a precedence for myself to do this to a high school library,” Tenorio said. “If it makes a positive difference in one student, that's better than nothing. I don't think that this whole process that we've gone through is going to make more adults read the book. I don't necessarily know if more kids are reading the book, but it's not going to harm them.”

In an email to the Sun-News before the hearing, Smith expressed that she felt the process was unjustified and biased against her complaint. She pointed to an alleged text message exchange between a board member and a member of the review committee, that she said received as a result of a record's request. The Sun-News could not verify if the text message conversation happened or who the board and committee member were.

She alleged the review committee had been “stacked” with people who were against book banning, and the review process wasn’t objective.

However, before the board unanimously voted to deny removal of the book, each member promised Smith during the appeal hearing to vote objectively despite Smith’s calls for recusal based on the alleged text exchange.

The school board cited Ruiz’ legal and district policy stances when voting to uphold the denial for removal.

What the author says about Jack of Hearts and Other Parts

Since its initial publication in 2018, author of Jack of Hearts and Other Parts Lev A.C. Rosen acknowledged the book may not be for everyone.

Rosen wrote in a statement that the book is more than its mature language, characters and storyline. He said it was written for educating and supporting LGBTQ+ youth who may struggle with their identity and experiences.

“I trust teenagers. They’re the best at self-censoring,” Rosen said in the statement. “If a teenager picked it up and started reading it and felt uncomfortable, they easily could have put it down. What’s important is that they have that choice, so that the teens who need these books can find them.”

“Jack of Hearts had been on shelves for years before someone tried to ban it - it had been reviewed and put on best of the year lists when it first came out, and no one cared then. I find it curious that only now do people want it gone,” Rosen wrote.

Rosen's full statement can be read here.

Ernesto Cisneros is a reporting fellow with the UNM/NM Local News Fund program. He covers education for the Sun-News and can be reached at ECisneros@lcsun-news.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter at @_ernestcisneros.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Las Cruces school board votes to keep Jack of Hearts and Other Parts on shelf