Civil rights advocates and students in Massachusetts are raising the alarm after a plainclothes police officer searched an 8th grade classroom for the memoir Gender Queera book with LGBT+ narratives that is often the target of right-wing book banning efforts.
On Dec. 8, a Great Barrington police officer entered WEB Du Bois Regional High School in search of the book, following an anonymous complaint to the department that the book contained obscene or pornographic material.
The officer, who alerted the school to their arrival and recorded the search on a body camera, was accompanied by the principal.
“That's part of the concern,” said Ruth A Bourquin, senior and managing attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts. Berkshire Eagle. “Police going to schools and searching for books is something you hear about in communist China and Russia. What are we doing?”
The team wants access to body camera footage and other records related to the complaint.
More than 100 students at a nearby school walked out last week in protest at the police investigation.
Police Chief Paul Storti told Boston.com this week his department was obligated to follow up on the complaint about Gender Queera famous coming-of-age exploration that is stocked in many school libraries.
“Because this complaint was made directly to the police station, we are obliged and have a duty to look into the complaint further,” he said.
“After a brief conversation with the teacher, the officer was advised that the book in question did not exist and could not be accounted for at that time,” Chief Storti said.
In a statement, the Berkshire Hills Regional School Board said it “clearly and unequivocally” opposes the book bans.
“The recent incident at the high school has provoked and impacted our community,” the statement continued. “Faced with an unprecedented police investigation into what should be a purely educational matter, we tried to serve the best interests of students, families, teachers and staff. In hindsight, we would have approached it differently at the time. We are sorry. We can to do better to improve and support our existing policies. We are committed to supporting all our students, especially vulnerable populations.”
The incident prompted Gov. Maura Healy to weigh in.
“Our administration stands with educators who are committed to ensuring their students have inclusive and inclusive resources,” he said in a statement. “I am proud to see these students empower their teacher, their peers and an inclusive learning environment.”
Gender Queer was the single most challenged book in school libraries in 2021 and 2022, according to the Associated Press.
As The independent reported that books written that explore the experiences of LGBT+ people and people of color are the most frequent targets of parental complaints and right-wing attempts to ban books.