Although parents on both sides of the mask mandate issue attended Tuesday’s Orange County School Board meeting to advocate for their position, the decision on whether to keep students’ faces covered wasn’t the most controversial issue at the Oct. 26 meeting.
Video recorded by Alicia Farrant — a member of the Orange County chapter of the parent group Moms for Liberty — depicts Orange County School Board Chair Teresa Jacobs having police officers remove Jacob Engels, a speaker during the public comment portion of the meeting, after Engels began reading from a book titled “Gender Queer: A Memoir.”
The book, which was found in an Orange County Public Schools high school library, is a graphic novel that contains detailed and graphic depictions of sex acts.
“I’m going to read a passage of a book that’s floating around in your schools that has been banned from many other schools,” Engels said. “As a member of the LGBT community, the fact that this is floating around for children as young as ninth grade is concerning.”
A few seconds after Engels began reading from the book, Jacobs interrupted and pressed further when other members of the audience protested her order for Engels to stop reading.
“Sir,” she said. “Mr. Engels, you’re out of order. … Remove him from the chambers.”
Jacobs continued: “I understand that book is in the classroom, and the language he just read is inappropriate for this forum. … I understand the contradiction here. This is the first time I’ve heard of this and the board has heard of this. We will look into it, and I do hope the book is removed. OK? And if not, we’ll be back here having this conversation again, but I can guarantee you, I did not know that book was in the library.”
The interaction between Engels and Jacobs took place during the pre-agenda comment period. OCPS does not live-stream this portion of the meeting, so it is not recorded on the district's YouTube version of the meeting.
Officials from the Orange County chapter of Moms for Liberty issued this statement: "Mom's for Liberty Orange County has lost all faith in the Orange County School Board. When presented with pornographic material, they did not ask the name of the book, what school it was located in or vow to remove it immediately. Instead, they had the speaker removed with police force. It is clear Orange County School Board does not have the protection of their students as a priority. Due to the fact that this material is pornographic and the School Board is in essence distributing pornographic material to minors, Moms for Liberty believes the School Board should step down."
Following the meeting, OCPS took action regarding this particular book.
"Four copies of the book 'Gender Queer' were in three of our 22 high schools," OCPS Director of Media Relations Shari Bobinski said. "The School Board was unaware this book was available in school media centers. At this time, the book is not on library shelves and is under review. If anyone has a concern about materials or books found in our media centers or in our classrooms, Orange County Public Schools has a process in place for parents or guardians to submit a form to the school principal to address a concern."
According to OCPS Media Promotions Manager for Teaching and Learning Renée Burke, individual schools make decisions regarding which books are selected for their libraries.
"Schools currently have sole discretion for collection development, or the ongoing selection and purchasing of library media materials using their state library media materials fund," Burke said. "Library materials selection is an ongoing process that is part of the collection development cycle. Books are selected based on how they meet the needs of the school population, the curriculum and overall educational value. Professionally trained personnel, including but not limited to, media specialists, principals, teachers and program specialists, are involved in the selection of library media materials.
"Personnel may consult various resources to guide the collection development process," Burke said. "These resources are recommended or provided by professional organizations for media specialists. In addition, numerous OCPS approved vendors source book reviews from these sites within their purchasing platforms to provide central access to all book reviews available for a specific title."