Hermon parent Regina Leonard told WVOM host Ric Tyler Wednesday about her years-long struggle to get answers from the Hermon school system about pornographic books the schools are making available to young students.
Leonard and other parents are urging the school to develop a transparent policy governing what type of content schoolchildren of a certain age can access, but so far Hermon school administrators have been reluctant to offer solutions.
Grant, Shorey, Leonard and a handful of other parents clashed at a lengthy district policy committee meeting earlier this week.
Grant left the meeting when the parents asked questions, while Shorey eventually lost his composure as the meeting was being taped.
Hermon Superintendent Micah Grant did not respond to a request for an interview. Also Kristen Quinn Shorey, Chair of Hermon School Board Policy.
Leonard said she originally set out to prove that explicit materials weren’t available to students, that it was just a rumor circulating on social media.
But she was shocked to discover that adult materials were actually circulating in Maine schools, often with little or no disclosure to parents.
She then joined several other district parents in lobbying for the schools to create a clear policy on what content is allowed at each age or grade level.
Leonard said her efforts to protect her child from sexually explicit material had been misinterpreted by school officials and political activists as an attack on sexual minorities or teachers.
“We are not against teachers. I’m specifically talking about the books in the library,” Leonard said. “So if you’re saying I’m interviewing anyone, I’m interviewing the librarian and her process.”
She said one of the books in question, Milk and Honey, contained graphic depictions of rape and violent sexual acts.
This book was made available to 13-year-olds in the school system, she said.
The Hermon fight is just one of many taking place in Maine school districts over what role, if any, pornographic content should play in schools of all grades.
On one side are gender ideology activists, progressive school leaders and teachers who say that pornographic books like Milk and Honey or Gender Queer or All Boys Aren’t Blue are needed for inclusive gay, lesbian education , bisexual or gender dysphoric students.
On the other hand, there are parents who do not want their children to be exposed to hypersexualized material that may conflict with their own family values. Some, like Leonard’s case, simply want more transparency about how students can access these materials.
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As for the material itself, it is undoubtedly very controversial.
In Maine and across the country, several school boards have condemned or attempted to turn off the microphones of parents who read aloud from the books at public gatherings.
Although the images contained in the controversial books are artistic renderings or cartoons, it is clear that they depict sexual acts, sometimes sexual acts between minors.
Gender Queer, which featured prominently in the recent gubernatorial election between Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, features explicit cartoon drawings of minors engaging in sexual activity.
“All Boys Aren’t Blue” contains explicit written descriptions of incestuous gay relationships between boys who are cousins.
This book was prominently shared within the Hampden school system by an educator who went on to win Maine’s Teacher of the Year award.
The legality of distributing pornographic material to underage schoolchildren in Maine was established by a 1977 statute governing the distribution of obscene material to minors.
This law, which criminalized the provision of “obscene” material to children in other settings, created an exception for schools and other institutions when the adult materials were made available to children for “pure educational purposes.”
At a Hermon School Board Policy Committee meeting earlier this week, Leonard spent several minutes after the meeting getting responses from Superintendent Grant and Policy Chair Shorey about the rating system she has been advocating for several months.
A video posted to online video sharing platform Rumble shows a heated exchange between parents and school officials. At one point, Grant walks out of the conversation while a visibly frustrated Shorey fends off questions from several angry parents.
The video was recorded and posted online by conservative activist and citizen journalist Shawn McBreairty, who has had several high-profile clashes with Maine public school officials.
Both school officials claimed that Milk and Honey, which contains artistic depictions of sexual acts and poetry about intercourse, had no sexual content.
In the video, Leonard says she’s had productive conversations with teachers about their expectations of exposing her child to this type of content, but her problem is the school library. She said that even under a possible “opt-out” policy that would prevent a student from checking out a book, students would still be able to access it on the shelf.
“It takes away my right as a parent to raise my child and protect them from material that I find harmful,” Leonard said.
“So you don’t think your child would listen if you said please don’t read this?” Shorey replied.
About 8 minutes into the public meeting, Shorey asked if the parents were still recording. When she found the camera in front of her was still on, she left abruptly.
Shorey insisted she was up for a chat, but that their meeting had been adjourned and she “don’t want to be on the frigging internet all the time.”
The future of the struggle for parental rights in Maine is uncertain.
Democrats hold both houses of the legislature as well as the Blaine House, and elected members of the party have typically defended the inclusion of sexually explicit materials in the classroom.
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The issue has also raised questions about government transparency.
Many of these school policies are developed informally or privately, and parents who have used Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) to find out what’s going on in their school system have been labeled by school officials as fanatics or otherwise frustrated by fee demands , sometimes exceeding $25,000.
FOAA allows anyone to ask for public records, including a school administrator’s emails or a district’s policy documents. But it also allows government bureaucrats to demand payment to cover record production work.
A school official who sits on an advisory panel on government transparency went so far as to label requests for records as “hate speech” when the requested records concern a school’s handling of sex and sexuality.
In other states, such as Florida, Republican officials have successfully pushed through reforms dubbed the “Parental Bill of Rights.” Similar legislation was signed into law in Virginia by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Politicians in both states have established clear rules as to whether public school workers are allowed to talk to schoolchildren about sex and sexuality.
And both bills were vigorously opposed by local elected Democrat officials as well as the national left-wing media.