Hermon parent Regina Leonard told WVOM host Ric Tyler on Wednesday about her year-long struggle to get answers from the Hermon school system over pornographic books the schools are making available to young students.
Leonard and other parents are asking the school to develop a transparent policy articulating what kind of content school kids can access at a given age, but so far school administrators in Hermon have been slow to offer solutions.
Hermon Superintendent Micah Grant did not respond to a request for an interview. Nor did Hermon School Board Policy Chair Kristen Quinn Shorey.
Grant, Shorey, Leonard, and a handful of other parents clashed at a long meeting of the district’s policy committee earlier this week.
Grant walked out on the meeting as parents were asking questions, while Shorey eventually lost her cool because the meeting was being recorded.
Leonard said she initially set out to prove that explicit materials were not actually available to students, that this was just a rumor circulating on social media.
But she was shocked to discover x-rated materials were indeed circulating in Maine schools, often with little or no disclosure to parents.
After that, she joined several other district parents in lobbying the schools to create a clear cut policy as to what content will be allowed at each age or grade level.
Leonard said her effort to protect her child from explicit sexual material has been misconstrued by school officials and political activists as an attack on sexual minorities or teachers.
“We’re not against teachers. I’m specifically speaking to the books in the library,” said Leonard. “So if you want to say that I’m questioning anybody, I’m questioning the librarian and their process.”
She said one of the books in question, “Milk and Honey,” contains graphic depictions of rape and violent sexual acts.
That book has been made available to 13-year-olds in the school system, she said.
The fight in Hermon is just one of many happening in Maine school districts over what role pornographic content, if any, ought to play in schools of all grades.
On the one side are gender ideology activists, progressive school administrators, and teachers who say pornographic books like “Milk and Honey” or “Gender Queer” or “All Boys Aren’t Blue” are vital for the inclusive education of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or gender dysphoric students.
On the other side are parents who don’t want their children exposed to hyper-sexualized material that may conflict with their own family values. Some, as is the case for Leonard, simply want more transparency about how these materials can be accessed by students.
As for the material itself, there’s no question it’s highly controversial.
In Maine and across the country, several school boards have condemned or tried to cut the microphones of parents who read aloud from the books at public meetings.
Though the images contained in the controversial books are artistic renditions or cartoons, it’s clear they depict sex acts, sometimes sex acts occurring between minors.
Gender Queer, which featured prominently in the last gubernatorial election between Democratic Gov. Janet Mills and former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, contains unambiguous cartoon drawings of minors engaging in sex acts.
“All Boys Aren’t Blue” contains explicit written descriptions of incestuous gay relationships between boys who are cousins.
That book was shared prominently within the Hampden school system by an educator who went on to win the Maine Teacher of the Year award.
The legality of distributing pornographic materials to minor school children was established in Maine by a 1977 law concerning the dissemination of obscene material to minors.
That law, which criminalized the provision of “obscene” materials to children in other settings, created an exception for schools and other institutions if the x-rated materials were furnished to kids for “purely educational purposes.”
At a meeting of the Hermon School Board Policy Committee earlier this week, Leonard spent several minutes after the meeting attempting to get answers from Superintendent Grant and Policy Chair Shorey about the rating system she’s been lobbying for for several months.
A video posted to online video platform Rumble shows a pitched exchange between parents and school officials. At one point, Grant walks out on the conversation while a visibly frustrated Shorey fends off questions from several angry parents.
The video was recorded and posted online by conservative activist and citizen journalist Shawn McBreairty, who has had several high-profile clashes with public school officials in Maine.
Both of the school officials claimed that Milk and Honey, which contains artistic renderings of sex acts and poetry about sexual intercourse, are not sexual content.
In the video, Leonard says she’s had productive conversations with teachers about her expectations for exposing her child to this kind of content, but her issue is with the school library. She said that even under a potential “opt out” policy, which would prevent a student from checking out a book, students would still be able to access it on the shelf.
“It’s taking away my right as a parent to parent my child and protect them from material that I find harmful,” said Leonard.
“So you don’t think your child would listen to you if you said, please don’t read that?” Shorey responded.
About 8 minutes into the public meeting, Shorey asked whether the parents were still recording. When she found out the camera in front of her was still on, she abruptly left.
Shorey insisted she was willing to have a conversation, but that her meeting had adjourned and she “doesn’t want to be on the fucking internet all the time.”
The future of the fight over parental rights in education is uncertain in Maine.
Democrats hold both Houses of the Legislature as well as the Blaine House, and elected members of the Party have typically defended the inclusion of sexually explicit materials in the classroom.
The issue has also raised questions over government transparency.
Many of these school policies are developed informally or outside of public view, and parents who have used Maine’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) in an attempt to figure out what’s going on in their school system have been labeled bigots by school officials or else frustrated by fee requests sometimes in excess of $25,000.
FOAA allows anyone to ask for public records, which includes a school administrator’s emails or a district’s policy documents. But it also allows government bureaucrats to request a payment to cover the work of record production.
One school official, who sits on an advisory board for government transparency, went so far as to call record requests “hate speech” if the records sought concern a school’s treatment of sex and sexuality.
In other states, such as Florida, Republican officials have successfully advanced reforms described as a “Parental Bill of Rights.” Similar legislation was signed into law in Virginia by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Both of those states’ policies established clearcut rules for whether employees at government-run schools can talk to school children about sex and sexuality.
And both of those laws were vigorously opposed by local Democratic elected officials as well as the national left-wing media.