Book-banning discussion bubbles up at Chilliwack board table

‘This is Alabama time, and we should stay away from it,’ board chair argues

A Chilliwack school trustee read a steamy passage out loud to the board on Tuesday. It was from a young adult novel, and used as evidence that parents should have informed consent on all materials used in schools.

Trustee Heather Maahs read from Australian author John Marsden’s dark fiction novel titled Tomorrow, When the War Began, which is written from the viewpoint of a teenage girl living through an insurgence by an unnamed country.

“I was clinging to him and pressing against him as though I wanted to let my whole body inside him and I liked the way I could make him groan and grasp and swear (the novel says sweat). I liked giving him pleasure, although it was hard to tell what was pleasure and what was pain. I was teasing him, touching him and saying ‘Does that hurt? Does that? Does that?’ and he was panting saying ‘Oh God … no, yes, no’. It made me feel powerful.”

“That is an excerpt from a Grade 9 novel being studied in our school distinct,” Maahs said, and when asked about the title added: “It’s called Tomorrow by John Marsden, look it up.”

The context of the excerpt Maahs used is from a scene in Chapter 18, in which the main character explains that she and her love interest, and most of their friends, are virgins.

In the end, Maahs’ motion to create an Informed Parental Consent policy did not pass, as it only received three of the seven votes at the table. Trustees Barry Neufeld and Darrell Furgason voted in favour of the policy, while Trustees Dan Coulter, Willow Reichelt, Jared Mumford and David Swankey all spoke against it. Her motion implies that teachers would have to foresee “resources that some may consider controversial” and inform parents about its use.

Trustee Jared Mumford noted that what is “controversial is relative,” and that consent forms would become onerous.

“How many consent forms are going home (with this policy)?” he said.

While Maahs’ motion did not explicitly state her intent was to regulate sexual content, nor does it refer to reading material in libraries, her statement at the meeting did.

“I think we can all figure out that I’m talking about sexual content in the curriculum … I am talking about SOGI 123, but I’m also talking about novels and anything that may arrive in a sexual nature,” she said.

Coulter noted several reasons the motion should fail, including contravention of the school act. He also said it was reminiscent of book banning and book burning.

“People would be objecting to phrases in books in libraries,” he said, and books on biology could be deemed controversial by some parents. “It would be endless. This is Alabama time, and we should stay away from it.”

The four nay voters also said parents already do have the ability to speak to their children’s teachers about any and all content used in a classroom. In Maahs’ motion she said that those processes are reactive rather than proactive. The way informed consent works, the student would not be able to participate without written permission from their parent or guardian, similar to field trip forms. This would give parents the option to opt their child out of conversations before they happen.

A book banning case happened closer to home than Alabama. About 20 years ago, the Surrey School Board tried to implement a ban on three children’s books, Belinda’s Bouquet, Asha’s Mums, and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the ban breached the School Act.

The book and its series that Maahs referenced on Tuesday night has earned accolades internationally, by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, the New South Wales Board of Studies, and the American Library Association, among others. It has been printed by Scholastic as well.

READ MORE: Teachers’ union says SOGI 123 debate by Chilliwack trustee candidates is irrelevant


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