Virginia Beach students, author defend challenged books at school board meeting

Challenged books dominated public comments at the Virginia Beach School Board meeting Tuesday evening — as several students defended the books, and so did the author of one of them.

In all, 15 students spoke up in defense of the books recently challenged by two Virginia Beach School Board members. Victoria Manning and Laura Hughes brought forth concerns from parents about six titles on Virginia Beach library shelves, requesting their review and removal. The titles include “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe, “A Lesson Before Dying” by Ernest Gaines, “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison, “Beyond Magenta” by Susan Kuklin and “Good Trouble” by Christopher Noxon.

Noxon joined the meeting via Zoom to speak up in defense of his and the other novels, accusing the books’ challengers of being concerned with silencing voices and holding onto power as opposed to protecting students.

Hughes reiterated she’s not out to ban books, and that “a ban is different from deciding where and when something is appropriate.” Manning was not at the meeting.

Several of the student speakers took issue with claims that the six books contained “pornographic content,” saying that depictions of sexual abuse aren’t intend to arouse readers but rather to depict real-world, albeit disturbing, experiences young people face.

The trauma of sexual violence should not be labeled as pornography, said Princess Anne High School student Marissa Whyte, but instead discussed in classrooms more often as it could happen to anyone, including marginalized students.

Students also emphasized their experiences of seeking representation of their backgrounds in books, especially as students of color and LGBTQ students.

Several of the adult speakers that followed the students questioned whether instructors put the students up to it. Others praised the students for their bravery in exercising their First Amendment rights, whether or not they agreed with the students’ sentiments.

Earlier during the informal meeting, Kipp Rogers, the division’s chief academic officer, presented on the process for selecting and reviewing instructional materials.

Rogers explained that because the division has over a million titles in its library system, it relies on outside vendors to conduct regular reviews of all the libraries’ titles.

Ensuring students see themselves represented in the library’s books is one among several criteria for including materials on their shelves, Rogers said.

Julianna Morano,