HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Two books have been pulled from the shelves of Henrico County Public School libraries and are under review after concerns about sexual content. Currently, Henrico students can’t check out “Out of Darkness,” the story of an interracial teenage romance or “I Am a Gay Wizard,” a young adult novel about a gay wizard and magic.
“The first book ‘Out of Darkness,’ there were eight copies all in high school libraries and the second book ‘I Am a Gay Wizard,’ was in one library at a high school,” explains Eileen Cox, Chief of Communications for Henrico Schools.
Cox stresses the books were removed so an instructional review committee can read and consider the content.
She said, “This is not a book ban this is a requested review by an engaged parent.”
The parent formally challenged “I Am a Gay Wizard” in a complaint filed with the school district. The parent objects to “very graphic detail” of a boy in the book performing oral sex on another boy character. The parent writes that the book “could drive premature sexualization” and “possibly, contribute to the development of a pornography addiction.”
“Out of Darkness” was pulled for review at the request of Henrico’s Chief Learning Officer after feedback from parents.
Cox explained that the review will question, “is the content age appropriate for the students?”
Nora Pelizarri with the National Coalition Against Censorship (NACA) takes issue with Henrico’s approach. She said, “The students that need this literature cannot currently access it and that’s a problem.”
Pelizzari also adds, pulling books from the shelves before a formal review is complete gives privilege to the person complaining over the professional who put the book in there in the first place. NACA has seen an uptick in book banning with circulating lists online that challenge novels and education under the banner of parent’s rights.
“We have seen a very strong trend to objections that are by and about people of color or LGBTQ people,” Pelizarri said.
Ultimately, the Henrico review committee which includes high school teachers, parents and instruction specialists will have the final say on if the books return. Cox tells 8News there is a policy and process for this.
She said, “It’s not a knee jerk response, there’s careful consideration for these things.” The committee is meeting next month to discuss “I Am a Gay Wizard” and is supposed to be submitting a recommendation about “Out of Darkness” to the schools superintendent.
8News checked with other school districts in the area. Hanover Schools has a copy of “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez in one of its high school libraries. We’re told the district acquired it in January 2020 and it has never been checked out.
Hanover does not have any copies of “I Am a Gay Wizard” written by V.S. Santoni in their school libraries.
Hanover also has a process for complaints about instructional materials that can be found in the school policy manual online. There are four levels of review for challenges to instructional materials: Level One, Conference with Principal, Level Two, Local School Review Committee, Level Three, HCPS Instructional Material Review Committee (IMRC) and Level Four, School Board Review.
Richmond Public Schools tells us they do not have either of the titles in their school libraries. 8News is still waiting to hear back Chesterfield County Public Schools.