BY KARISSA MILLER
Local residents flooded the Iredell-Statesville School Board meeting Monday night to express their concerns about the district’s book controversy following last week’s board discussion at the Committee of the Whole meeting.
The board gave 28 speakers two minutes each to address the issue or other concerns during the meeting’s public comment section.
Representatives of Moms for Liberty, who have raised the issue repeatedly for months, had their say again Monday.
“Some people in this area have said I’m trying to destroy the superintendent, the school board and the entire school system, but this is not true. I’m not trying to hurt anyone, but trying to preserve the innocence of children,” said Paula Mimnaugh, who has led the charge in trying to have books removed from I-SS school libraries.
Mimnaugh said that the board needs to remove books that are pornographic and obscene because “they are made to groom children into thinking that children participating in sex is normal.”
Moms for Liberty chair Kelli Harris said she that doesn’t think that obscene books should be on the top 10 list of things for the school board to tackle. She said mental health, staffing, academics and other things should be the highest priorities.
However, she said that the books that her group asked the district to review for removal do fit the definition of obscene and vulgar.
“Everybody needs to get on the same page. Read what we are talking about. Obscenity, vulgarity, sexualized nature, crudeness and curse words… I think we can do better for our students in Iredell-Statesville Schools,” Harris said.
Meanwhile, students, parents and other parents pushed back against the calls to remove books.
The Brawley IB School student McKayla Gershier, who was there primarily to address the school board about revising the dress code, briefly chimed in on the book discussion.
“Several books that I read last year are being banned,” Gershier said.
“Look Both Ways” by Jason Reynolds, she said, is a book about diversity and inclusion.
Beth Kendall, who is the current chair of the Iredell County Democratic Party, pointed out some striking similarities between the Moms for Liberty’s national agenda for banning books and the “agenda of the new school board members.”
“Four of you ran under the banner of Moms for Liberty. And it’s constantly you four that are bringing up things like social emotional learning, book bans and generally overstepping your duties as an elected official,” Kendall said.
“This board has to stop pushing agenda and using tactics that it has learned from this national group. Let the professionals and specialists do their jobs,” she added.
Parent Shanika Turner said she was a student 30 years ago at Statesville High School in Honors English.
She recalled reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel, “The Year of Impossible Goodbyes” by Sook Nyul Choi and “Diary of Anne Frank.”
Turner said that her teacher “embraced the books and read it to the class.”
“We learned about the Jewish Holocaust. We learned about the Korean War from a 10-year-old girl. What that taught me is that when I heard these stories and read these books it allowed me to be relatable to the pain that I felt as an African American,” Turner said.
Former Iredell County commissioner Diane Hamby criticized the school board for not focusing on the “real issues.”
“Banning books in the age of the smart phone — when every kid has a smart phone — is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard,” Hamby said. “What they are being exposed to everyday on social media, YouTube is horrible. Focus on the real stuff.”
Public mistrust, power struggles over a variety of issues and tense debates have marked the past several months for the Iredell-Statesville school board.
Other community members spoke out Monday about their mistrust of the school board for violating open meeting laws and from distracting the district from focusing on what’s best for student learning.