Families & the Community

As Book Bans Spread, Suburban Moms Who Oppose Them Are Fighting Back

By Eesha Pendharkar — February 17, 2022 | Corrected: February 18, 2022 4 min read
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Corrected: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of “One WillCo.”

Suburban Democratic moms are teaming up to fight the conservative movement to ban from classrooms books dealing with race, sexuality, and gender.

According to a recent nationally representative EdWeek survey, school districts across the country this year have seen an uptick of requests to ban from schools books about LGBTQ characters, race, and racism.

Parents in some communities have argued that the books are inappropriate for children because they contain sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate content, or teach white students to hate themselves.

But parents opposed to many of the bans reject those claims and say many of the books are key to students receiving a well-rounded education with diverse perspectives.

For some moms, the fight is personal.

“Right before Gender Queer [an illustrated novel by Maia Kobabe about gender identity] was ripped from our school’s shelves, one of my children came out as nonbinary, and Gender Queer is an incredibly important book for them to read, to get comfort from, to help understand how they were feeling and what they’re going through developmentally,” said Jen Cousins, a mom in Orange County, Florida.

Although Cousins said she is supportive of her child and can personally make available to them the banned book, she said not every LGBTQ student in the district is as privileged.

“Books like this are literally suicide prevention for [some] kids...” she said. “That’s why it’s so unbelievably wrong to me that they would deny them access to this.”

Education Week spoke to several parents across the country who are fighting book bans in their districts. Here are four common strategies they’re using.

Train parents on how to lobby school board members

Red Wine and Blue, a national advocacy network of Democratic suburban parents, holds a weekly training for parents and community members.

The weekly “troublemaker training” offers tips on how to rally parents to speak up at public school board meetings and lobby board members and school leaders to oppose book bans.

“All of it has to do with expressing the will of the community to the school board,” said Katie Paris, a mom from Ohio and the founder of Red Wine and Blue.

Training offered by this group and others like it in different parts of the country, show parents how to sign up to speak at school board meetings, develop talking points for those meetings, and stay informed of potential book bans.

Many of them also offer resources through social media pages or podcasts to educate parents who want to fight book bans on how they can get involved.

Rallies have taken place against book bans in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

“...What we’re doing is speaking up, to remind everybody that [ a] small group of very, very angry people does not speak for everybody,” said Renee Seckel, a mom from Wake County, N.C .“...Most parents … want their kids to be able to read a variety of books and want their kids to talk about difficult issues in school.

Communicate directly with school officials

In Williamson County, Tenn., where a local chapter of the conservative group Moms for Liberty is trying to get banned from school curricula and libraries two books about Ruby Bridges, who fought to integrate schools, the fight involves more than just speaking at school board meetings. Jennifer Cortez, a mom who is partnering with Red Wine and Blue and runs her own grassroots organization, One Willco, has gathered comments from librarians and teachers about proposed book bans and reads them without identifying the commenters at school board meetings.

It’s important for parents to speak directly to school leaders if they want to create change, Cortez said.

“I can’t go out and fight Tucker Carlson as a suburban mom, but I have credibility in my own community because my kids’ principals know me and my kids’ teachers know me,” she said. “This is the way that we can actually fight back. My voice counts a lot in my own community.”

Make banned books more widely available

In Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia, moms involved in fighting book bans are trying to make books being challenged or banned accessible to students through other avenues.

Rasha Saad, a mom from Loudon County, Va., said she and a group of other moms bought books challenged by conservative parents, such as The Hate U Give, a book about the aftermath of the police killing of a Black teenager, to hand out for free at school board meetings.

In Williamson County, moms have started a book club where they read with their children books that conservative parents are asking to be removed, Cortez said.

One Willco, the organization she co-founded, has put out a Google form in the community for anyone who would like to pick up a challenged book.

In Pennsylvania, Smith is part of a local advocacy group called the Pennridge Improvement Project, to organize a “diversity book drive” that involved an Amazon wish list including banned books and books by diverse authors.

“That’s been really successful so far,” she said. “We’re going to sprinkle them into all of our free little libraries throughout the district.”

Coverage of strategies for advancing the opportunities for students most in need, including those from low-income families and communities, is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at www.waltonk12.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the March 09, 2022 edition of Education Week as As Book Bans Spread, Suburban Moms Who Oppose Them Are Fighting Back


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