The Catch-Up: Debate about books in schools continues in Lexington County

By Jordan Lawrence and Kailee Kokes
Posted 9/28/23

One school district continues to deal with a rash of challenged books, while another saw one of its teachers, accused of teaching critical race theory, profiled by The Washington Post.

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The Catch-Up: Debate about books in schools continues in Lexington County


Debate on what books should be allowed in schools continues in Lexington County.

As initially reported by The State’s Bristow Merchant, Lexington County School District 2, which covers Cayce, West Columbia and Springdale, has recently reviewed 30 books, with 17 having been removed at the discretion of a principal or a review committee.

The list, confirmed as accurate by the district as of Sept. 25, includes “The Bluest Eye,” with the famous novel by Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison under review by a committee, along with a variety of titles either directly or tangentially covering topics of race or sexuality, many of which have been removed from the district altogether.

The wave of removals have followed complaints by a group known as PACE (Parents Advocating for Children’s Education), which has been addressing what it sees as problems in the district, including hosting a candidate forum ahead of last November’s election.

The group made a presentation to the Lexington 2 school board in April, asking for, according to the district’s minutes, an audit of libraries, a book selection committee reflective of the Lexington 2 student body and a review and update of policy related to library materials selection and adoption.

“What we're finding is that our school libraries are building collections of books that are filled with sexually explicit acts, self harm, pedophilia, pornography, rape, white privilege, as well as racially and politically divisive material,” group member India Springs said during that meeting. “If we don't stop the influx of this progressive material now, what we love and value about Lexington 2 could be lost forever.”

The debate since has been far from one-sided, with proponents on both sides of the book issue frequently showing up to board meetings to speak during the public comment portion.

“I'm a proud graduate of Lexington 2 and I've been to some of these recent appeals meetings about books,” Catherine Buchanan said at the board’s last meeting Sept. 21. “In the meeting I attended the complainants drew some conclusions that a children's picture book would lead to the hearts and minds of children being stolen by Satan and girls getting assaulted, I'll say, in bathrooms.”

She criticized the “mental gymnastics” it takes to reach these conclusions, complaining that in pushing for the book to be removed PACE didn’t use a “process for a common sense, good faith approach, but to proselytize, instill irrational fear and encourage the district to create a discriminatory environment for already marginalized groups of kids.”

PACE has maintained that it is not engaging in hate.

"There are those that would have you believe that we are advocating for book banning and censorship, that we aim to demonize teachers, administrators and librarians,” Whitney Hendrix said during the group’s April presentation. “That is not the case. In fact, we've had numerous conversations with Lexington 2 employees that share our concerns. Book banning and censorship are buzzwords that are pitting educators against concerned parents and community members. This is a false narrative.” — JL

District 5 teacher in Washington Post

Another district in the county continues to find itself a very visible part of the national debate over books covering sensitive topics being allowed in schools.

Mary Wood, an AP Language teacher at Chapin High school, is in the national news once again following the start of the school year. The Washington Post wrote a detailed article talking with Woods about going back to school after she was accused of teaching critical race theory and Lexington-Richland School District 5 ended up embroiled in controversy.

Since this summer, when complaints arose – some from conservative members of the S.C. Freedom Caucus and county GOP – about her lesson that included teaching the Ta-Nehisi Coates memoir “Between the World and Me,” something she had taught the previous year without issue, Wood has received both support and calls for her dismissal.

Washington Post reporter Hannah Natanson wrote about how Wood ended the spring semester feeling defeated and betrayed by both her students, some of whom triggered the controversy by complaining the Coates’ book made them feel ashamed to be white, and the school system. Wood teaches at the same high school that she attended.

“Wood believes trust is fundamental to the classroom. She has to trust her students. They and their parents have to trust her. But trust, she believes, is impossible without authenticity. And for Wood, teaching authentically means assigning writers like Coates — voices unfamiliar, even disconcerting, to students in her lakeside town,” Natanson writes. “Because of what happened last year, though, Wood now worried anything, from the most provocative essay to the least interesting comment about her weekend, might be resisted, recorded and reported by the children she was supposed to be teaching.”

The district told the Chronicle that Superintendent Akil Ross will not comment about a specific staff member or incident and sent a statement stating that the district is “committed to its vision of loving and growing all students as we prepare them to meet the profile of a SC graduate.”

“School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties is committed to its vision of loving and growing all students as we prepare them to meet the profile of a SC graduate,” Amanda Taylor, the district’s director of communications, said in a statement after the Chronicle asked about how the district will handle approving lesson plans moving forward. “To accomplish this goal, teachers prepare lessons and activities that are based on the State Standards. While teaching these standards, there will be topics that are considered controversial or sensitive. According to Board Policy IMB, teachers should refrain from expressing their personal opinions on controversial topics such as sectarianism, politics, and other sensitive issues. This policy aims to ensure a neutral and unbiased teaching approach.

“Our goal is that students can arrive at an independent conclusion about presented issues and topics. The teacher will not attempt to limit or control the judgements of the students under our board policy.” – KK

Man found guilty of reckless homicide in Lake Murray accident

Tracy Gordon — who was convicted last week of driving his speed boat into a family’s pontoon boat on Lake Murray, killing the father while seriously injuring the daughter and mother — was given a 10-year prison sentence.

Per the reporting of numerous outlets, Gordon was convicted Sept. 20 and sentenced the next day after admitting to drinking at least eight beers across nearly eight hours before the accident, which took place in September 2021.

The accident killed 68-year-old Stan Kiser, while his wife, Shawn, had to have her leg amputated.

Gordon was found guilty of reckless homicide, but was found not guilty of boating under the influence. — JL

lexington county school district 2, chapin high crt, book ban sc


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