FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Some parents in Cumberland County are in an uproar as the school district is reviewing almost 100 books for objectionable or age-inappropriate content. Cumberland County Schools (CCS) said it is following up on complaints issued to the district. However, critics said it's a veiled attempt to ban books by and about people of marginalized identities.
It's not clear who asked for the list of books to be reviewed by CCS for inappropriate content. However, the situation is drawing attention. According to the list provided to ABC11 by the Cumberland County Schools and the Cumberland County African American Caucus, it prominently features books by and about women, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ.
CCS said it has formed a committee to evaluate the books and that the committee isn't focusing on banning books. However, the books have been temporarily removed from the district's online system. Those books have since been made available again.
The county issued a statement saying in part: "Our media offerings, curricula, and resources are constantly reviewed for both accuracy and inclusion while also balancing the need to ensure that they are appropriate for the educational setting...Ultimately, our goal is to provide every student with equitable access to engaging learning that prepares them to be collaborative, competitive, and successful in our global world."
CCS explained further that the review is required by a policy to uphold the state board's educational standards. Yet the frustrated, critical parents say the situation is a covert attack on literature and intellectual work by so-called marginalized people.
"They're playing semantics," said Carmella McKeller-Smith, a student advocate. "They're not saying 'banning.' But they're removing the books. They're not saying 'audit.' But they're reviewing the books."
McKeller also balked at the critically acclaimed authors and books that made the list:
"Pulitzer Prize-winning writers. NAACP Image Award recipients. A-R books. Battle of the Books books. Books that have been vetted year after year. Some of these books have been in our media center for a decade center because my oldest son read them when he was in school. What are we doing?" McKeller said.
Some also point out that a number of the books deal with Black history; taking them away from Cumberland County Schools' media centers, or libraries could be erasing that history from children's education spaces, they say. Adam Beyah, the president of the Cumberland County African American Caucus, said he is frustrated that CCS wasn't more forthcoming about its review from the beginning:
"If it's an open process, why all the hidden veils and secrecy? When we had people ask the school board about that, they didn't share with us a list of books but I'm glad they're doing it now. We had to go and get books, get that list from other sources."
Cumberland County Schools said the committee reviewing the books will share its findings at an upcoming board meeting. The full statement from CCS reads as follows:
"Similar to school districts across the nation, our school system occasionally receives questions about books that are in circulation in our school media centers. Based on recent concerns about some library books that are currently housed in our media centers, the district has assembled a Reconsideration Committee in accordance with Board Policy 3210, Parent Inspection of and Objection to Instructional Materials. The Reconsideration Committee is made up of a diverse group of internal and external stakeholders.
The committee is finalizing a review of the books in question and working to determine their appropriateness for the grade levels and educational programs in which they are currently assigned. For example, materials containing content appropriate for high school-age students would not be available to students in an elementary school media center. The committee's focus is not to ban any books. The books in question were not removed from the shelves. However, pending review, they were temporarily removed from the school system's Destiny Online Catalog. (A full listing of those book titles is attached to this email.) Because of the number of books under review, it has taken the committee a few months to complete this process. However, as the committee finalizes its review of the books, all titles are available in the Destiny Online Catalog. An update regarding the committee's findings will be shared with the Board of Education at a future meeting.
The goal is to provide a variety of texts to our students that are age appropriate and suit their many interests. Our media offerings, curricula, and resources are constantly reviewed for both accuracy and inclusion while also balancing the need to ensure that they are appropriate for the educational setting. We are mindful, respectful, and affirmative of all forms of diversity - this is the foundation of equity. We remain committed to equity and aim to ensure our media centers reflect topics representative of our students and their interests. Ultimately, our goal is to provide every student with equitable access to engaging learning that prepares them to be collaborative, competitive, and successful in our global world."
Note: As of February 17 at 7:44 am, this article has been updated to include the full statement from Cumberland County Schools, and to clarify that the books have been made available again in the its online system.