LGBTQ+ Pride flags | Susan J. Demas/Michigan Advance
In communities across Wisconsin, growing concerns over the banning of books, and treatment of marginalized students are spurring residents to action. On Thursday evening, an informational meeting will be hosted in Waukesha by PFLAG, which describes itself as the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. The meeting, starting at 6:30 pm Thursday at the Waukesha Public library, will focus on book banning in Waukesha’s school district.
The meeting comes one day after the Waukesha School Board voted 9-0 to fire a first-grade teacher who publicly criticized the school district’s decision to ban the song “Rainbowland” from an elementary school concert.
“The School District of Waukesha in the last few years has targeted and removed books featuring LGBTQ+ characters from their libraries,” said Monica Whaley, who helped organize the meeting with PFLAG. Whaley said that since 2021, there have been 23 books censored or banned by the district. “Of those, six include LGBTQ+ representations,” said Whaley. “As disturbing as that is, books not documented on the district spreadsheet and just removed from the shelves and library catalogs are even more concerning. After investigation, those targeted books were disproportionately topics of LGBTQ+ content, women’s studies, abuse, justice and sexual abuse.”
Since 2020 particularly, Waukesha has been a hotbed of tension around content in schools. Last year, signs showing support for disabled students and featuring a prominent disabled activist were removed. The year before, signs supporting Black Lives Matter and Thin Blue Line signs were both removed. Rainbow flags were also removed, leading LGBTQ+ students to protest that their speech was being restricted.
There has been, an exodus of teachers from the district, with many citing the district’s responses to cultural and political issues.
More than a year ago a list of books with LGBTQ characters or dealing with issues of equity or discrimination circulated in several parts of Wisconsin as well as Waukesha. Republican state lawmakers approached school districts about what books are available to students in their districts. Since then, the GOP has supported legislation opening the door to prosecuting library and school staff for providing certain books to students. In the Elmbrook school district, concerns were raised that books were removed against the district’s stated policy. Whaley, a former teacher whose niece was suspended for not taking down her pride flag, has seen similar things in Waukesha’s school district.
“The district credits itself with being transparent and strict on enforcing policies, and yet, when a board member requested that over one hundred books be reviewed, and Administration agreed, the review did not follow their own policy,” she said in a written statement. “The District stakeholders deserve a board and Superintendent who will follow policy and ensure that students have Intellectual Freedom and Constitutional Rights.”
Whaley said the district must make a complete record of books it has removed, including those removed without any public reporting, and “ process them through the district’s policy,” listing them publicly “with a written reason why that book was rejected. If our district professes the need for its staff to follow policies, they must also meet that requirement.”
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