DA Won’t File Obscenity Charges Against Wake School System

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman will not file criminal charges against the school system for distributing books that some parents say are obscene because they contain graphic language and images about sex.

A group of parents and community activists filed nine criminal complaints in December with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office accusing the school system of distributing obscene and pornographic material.

Freeman said his office determined that “at this point, we don’t believe this is a criminal matter.”

“We may have ideas or opinions about whether certain materials are appropriate to be on a school shelf,” Freeman, a Democrat, said in an interview Wednesday with The News & Observer. “It’s different if it’s a violation of a criminal law.”

Some of the targeted books include “Gender Queer”, “All Boys Aren’t Blue”, “George”, and “Lawn Boy”. These books have already been criticized in North Carolina by Republican Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson and nationally for their sexual content.

Wake rejects book challenge

Freeman said the proper procedure for parents is to ask the Wake County school system to remove the material. Freeman said she would monitor how Wake, which is North Carolina’s largest school district, handles the review process.

The district’s Central Educational Materials Advisory Committee is reviewing multiple complaints about books in various school libraries. On Wednesday, the committee voted 6 to 1 in support of Cary High’s decision to retain Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy” in the school’s library collection.

District officials said a formal letter outlining the committee’s recommendation will be available as soon as it is sent to the parent who filed the complaint.

“Lawn Boy” is a coming-of-age story about a 22-year-old man who grows up in poverty. There are scenes such as the main character talking about a sexual experience involving oral sex with another boy when he was 10 years old at a youth group gathering at their church.

Plaintiffs say language and images in various books depict oral sex and other sexual acts that go beyond what should be acceptable in Wake County school libraries.

“I’m not a prude,” Wendy Runyon, one of the parents who filed a criminal complaint, said in a December interview. “But nothing in the books is educational at all. It’s just garbage.

Not a criminal offense

“Gender Queer” is a graphic novel, or story told in comic book form, about the author Maia Kobabethe journey of identification as non-binary and asexual. An analysis by The News & Observer found “some sexual scenes in this book, as well as some illustrations involving nudity and erotic scenarios”.

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Complaints have been filed with Wake County Public Libraries to remove “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” from circulation. The library system decided in December to keep “Lawn Boy” but remove “Gender Queer” from its shelves.

Library officials announced this week that they are putting “Gender Queer” back into circulation as they review their process for handling book-related challenges.

“For something to rise to the level of being criminal from a material perspective is a different standard than whether that material should be made available to children in school,” Freeman said. “Our office’s role is to identify situations where the dissemination of pornographic or inappropriate material crosses that criminal line.”

In this case, Freeman said the complaints did not meet the high standard of a criminal offense because of First Amendment free speech issues.

National Book Crime Investigations

Parents have come to school boards nationwide to complain about books they say are being inappropriately given to students. But a new wrinkle in the debate over explicit books in school and public libraries is the effort to seek out criminal charges.

In November, South Carolina Republican Governor Henry McMaster ordered the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate whether any state laws have been broken due to “obscene and pornographic material” in public schools across the state, The State newspaper reported.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott has ordered a similar criminal investigation into the material in public schools in the state.

A Florida school board member filed a criminal complaint in November accusing the district of violating obscenity laws to have the book “Not All the Boys Are Blue” in school libraries, the Orlando reported. Sentinel. The book contains sexual content and features author George M. Johnson’s thoughts on the growth of black and gay people.

A Wyoming couple has filed criminal complaints against librarians accusing them of providing young people with books on sex education and LGBTQ themes that violated obscenity laws. But a prosecutor decided in October not to press charges, reported the Associated Press.

This story was originally published January 12, 2022 2:44 p.m.

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T. Keung Hui has been covering K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. Its primary focus is Wake County, but it also covers statewide education issues.

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