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Hanover County school board presses forward with 70+ new book removals

Chairman Bob May applauds
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Hanover County School Board Chairman Bob May applauds after recognizing teachers and students during a School Board meeting on Tuesday, November 14, 2023 at Hanover County Administration Building in Hanover County, Virginia.

Weeks after a failed ballot referendum, the appointed members are expanding the ban list.

It’s been two weeks since voters struck down an Election Day referendum for an elected school board. The county will remain one of 12 out of 136 localities in Virginia where school board members are appointed.

And this week, the appointed board expanded its book ban to 72 more titles that will be removed from public school libraries. Plus the 19 books it initially removed in June, three of which re-appeared on this week’s list, the county has banned upward of 91 nonfiction and fiction books, graphic novels, comics and more — many of which are autobiographical in nature — for being too sexually explicit.

School administrators received a memo from the school board that these books should be removed by Dec. 22, according to a district spokesperson.

Some of the titles include repeats of materials that were removed by the school board earlier this year. Other titles include the book of poems Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

As it stands, school policy 6-5.2 gives the Hanover board authority to remove books that contain “sexually explicit” content as defined by the Code of Virginia.

Traditionally, said materials are put through a multistep review process and removed via majority vote by the school board. In this case, dozens of books were delselected upon internal review by school administrators — which doesn’t require a public board vote.

After a book’s been deselected upon internal review, the school board’s policy allows for a teacher, librarian and principal to submit a request for a waiver to the School Board’s Library Materials Committee, which plans on such a challenge as early as Nov. 28.

If a request for reconsideration isn’t submitted after a book’s removal, said material won’t be reviewed or circulated in Hanover schools for multiple years.

“To see this many books, many of which are used in AP and IB classrooms, removed in a moment’s notice is just horrifying,” former Hanover educator Carrie Lindley told VPM News.

Lindley, a former elementary reading intervention instructor, has criticized the school board’s book policy in the recent past. She said the most horrifying aspect of the board's recent decision making is the undermining of hardworking teachers and librarians.

“I feel so badly for the educators in our county, many of whom are friends whose professional ethics and options are ignored,” she said. “The school board claims they’re working in coalition with them but I don’t know a single librarian who’s gotten face-to-face with them.”

A person walks into a building
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
People arrive for the Hanover School Board Meeting on Tuesday, November 14, 2023 at Hanover County Administration Building in Hanover, Virginia.

Referendum aftermath

Many Hanover parents told VPM News they became more attentive toward the seven-person school board as it began discussing controversial topics such as removing books and the civil rights of transgender students.

The board has also approved a number of policy revisions in recent months, including aligning the division with the Virginia Department of Education’s model policies for transgender students. Several civil rights organizations have opposed implementing those guidelines, which have no clear enforcement mechanism by the state. Groups that espouse “parental rights” like the Family Foundation have encouraged adoption of the policies.

The ballot measure was added in late July, after a grassroots coalition of about 90 volunteers gathered over 10,000 signatures from registered voters in the county. The Hanover Citizens for an Elected School Board started its campaign in late 2022, after failing to gather enough signatures for the 2021 the previous election cycle.

Over 23,000 or 52% Hanover voters sided against electing its school board members. Election Day results have yet to be certified by the Virginia Department of Elections Days.

“We won’t sugarcoat it: yesterday’s results are disappointing,” the group shared on Facebook after Election Day. “In a county that prides itself on patriotism, parental rights, and limiting government overreach, citizens chose to hand their most powerful asset — their vote — to a small group of officials.”

The statement continued, “Rest assured, our mission is not over. While Virginia law requires that we wait four more years before attempting the referendum again, we remain even more committed to bringing transparency and accountability to our school board.”

Many Hanover voters were of the same mind as the grassroots organization on election day. Kaylee Peters in the Henry District, told VPM News that the referendum was the reason she came to vote. Peters said she moved to the county from Texas with her husband and was surprised that school board elections didn’t happen in Hanover.

“Elected officials seem more prominent for the world we’re in today rather than appointed. I feel like right now, we don’t have any say,” Peters said.

Marcus Dean, a voter in the Mechanicsville District, told VPM News he hoped an election would bring more diversity to the appointed body, especially for candidates who are sometimes passed over by the board of supervisors during a rushed interview process.

“I mainly came to vote for the school board because right now the board’s pretty much all white men, so I figured we need a little more diversity in the county,” Dean said.

Banned books in Hanover County Public Schools

The 91 titles on this list have been marked for deselection from Hanover school libraries at various points this calendar year. This list is organized by alphabetical order of a book's title; several were written by the same author.

With 11 listed, novelist Ellen Hopkins is the most prevalent author on the list as of Nov. 22.

Note: Bolded titles first appeared on a previous list of deselected materials previously reported by VPM News. The reason for their repetition was not immediately apparent.

  1. A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas
  2. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
  3. A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas
  4. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  5. A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
  6. All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
  7. Carnival at Bray by Jessie Foley
  8. Choke by Chuck Palahnuik
  9. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
  10. Damsel by Elana Arnold
  11. Dead End by Jason Myers
  12. Dig by A.S. King
  13. Dime by E.R. Frank
  14. Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
  15. Exit Here by Jason Myers
  16. Fallout by Ellen Hopkins
  17. Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
  18. Flamer by Mike Curato
  19. Forever by Judy Blume
  20. Forever For a Year by B. T. Gottfred
  21. Glass by Ellen Hopkins
  22. GRL2GRL by Julie Anne Peters
  23. Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson
  24. Guyaholic by Carolyn Mackler
  25. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  26. Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
  27. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  28. House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas
  29. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez
  30. I Never by Laura Hopper
  31. Identical by Ellen Hopkins
  32. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  33. Impulse by Ellen Hopkins
  34. Infandous by Elana Arnold
  35. Jack of Hearts (and other parts) by L.C. Rosen
  36. Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julia Scheeres
  37. Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
  38. Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas
  39. Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
  40. Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships and Being Human by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan
  41. Life is Funny by E. R. Frank
  42. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
  43. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  44. Lucky by Alice Sebold
  45. Man O’ War by Cory McCarthy
  46. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
  47. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
  48. Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
  49. Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton
  50. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  51. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  52. Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
  53. People Kill People by Ellen Hopkins
  54. Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
  55. Red Hood by Elana Arnold
  56. Red White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
  57. Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill
  58. Rumble by Ellen Hopkins
  59. Shine by Lauren Myracle
  60. Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson
  61. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  62. Smoke by Ellen Hopkins
  63. Sold by Patricia McCormick
  64. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  65. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  66. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  67. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  68. The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell and Freedom Writers
  69. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  70. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  71. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
  72. The Haters by Jesse Andrews
  73. The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle
  74. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
  75. The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski
  76. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  77. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
  78. The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
  79. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  80. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  81. This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson
  82. Tilt by Ellen Hopkins
  83. Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
  84. Tricks by Ellen Hopkins
  85. TTFN by Lauren Myracle
  86. Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen
  87. We Are the Ants by Shaun Hutchinson
  88. What Girls are Made Of by Elana Arnold
  89. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
  90. Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi
  91. Yolo by Lauren Myracle
Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.