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Both in the Charlotte region and across the country, book battles have become a regular feature of school board meetings, as parents’ rights groups share tips on finding sexual content and other offensive material in students’ reading material.

CMS board sides with superintendent in new appeal process for book challenges

Ardrey Kell High School has denied Brooke Weiss' request to restrict access to these five books.
Ann Doss Helms
Some of the books Brooke Weiss has challenged.

A panel of Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board members Thursday upheld the superintendent’s decision to keep two challenged books in high school libraries. The hearing was the first test of a system set up to comply with North Carolina’s Parents Bill of Rights.

The bill, approved last summer, requires North Carolina school districts to establish a process for parents to challenge books they consider inappropriate for classrooms and school libraries. The president of Mecklenburg County’s Moms for Liberty chapter, Brooke Weiss, has challenged several books found at the Ardrey Kell High School library.

Those challenges have been working their way through the process, starting with a school review panel, then a district panel, then a review by Superintendent Crystal Hill. Weiss has prevailed on three challenges: The school agreed to remove the novel “Haunted” from the library; the district panel voted to removeA Court of Frost and Starlight,” part of a popular fantasy series by Sarah J. Maas; and Hill overrode the district panel to pull the young adult novel “Jack of Hearts” from the district’s libraries.

But Hill agreed with the school and district review panels that the value of the novels “Sold” and “Tricks” justifies the sexual content, and Weiss took the final step of appealing to the board (read a statement from her attorney here).

All three members of the board panel — Dee Rankin, Thelma Byers-Bailey and Liz Monterrey — sided with Hill after hearing Weiss’s arguments for removing or restricting access to the books.

Weiss said afterward she was disappointed by the process. She said she didn’t get enough time to make her case, and Rankin read a prepared statement announcing the decision, which she says indicates the group reached a decision before hearing her.

But Charles Jeter, the CMS staffer who works on policy with the board, said later that he had written resolutions for all the possible outcomes to ensure that the motion would include the proper legal language. Rankin simply read the one that matched the panel's decision, he said.

Weiss initially challenged eight books, but she says the total is higher now. After the district agreed to remove one Maas book, she asked CMS to extend that to all books in the series. CMS declined, so Weiss challenged all the others at the Ardrey Kell library.

Weiss’ challenges are part of a national trend, often labeled book bans, in which parents’ rights groups challenge books they say are inappropriate because of explicit sexual content, violence and other offensive material. Websites share titles of books and excerpts of the raciest passages so challenges can be launched without even reading the books. Critics say those challenges are designed to undermine confidence in public education and to squelch minority writers and LGBTQ perspectives.

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Updated: February 22, 2024 at 9:05 AM EST
Updated Feb. 22 to clarify the process.
Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.