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CABARRUS COUNTY, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) – Tensions continued to rise in Cabarrus County over school books and course material.

On Friday, Cabarrus County Schools’ lawyer released a policy document that would have given board members the power to vote on banning certain materials from school.

Board members were set to vote on that policy at their Monday board meeting.

But at Monday’s meeting, the lawyer presented an entirely different plan that was not read by board members or the public before the meeting. The new policy amendment would give board members the power to challenge course material but not vote on its fate. All challenged course material would go to a committee comprised of teachers, parents, and other school officials.

“The public is supposed to see what is being discussed and what is going to be voted on,” said parent and school board candidate Pam Escobar, citing a lack of transparency among the board.

In August, the board voted on a policy that would formalize how parents and other community members could challenge course materials. 

They later realized that this policy left gaps that needed correction. For instance, it did not leave a way for people to submit anonymous challenges, challenge books outside their school, or allow school board members to make challenges themselves. Monday’s newly presented policy supposedly addressed these concerns.

“We know that we’ve got a problem with the process that backs up the actual policy that’s going to vet how books are reviewed,” said Board Chair Holly Grimsley.

At the district’s Sept. 12 work session, Vice Chair Laura Blackwell read aloud a passage from the challenged book “Looking for Alaska.”

According to Grimsley, this challenge was made by a parent whose child does not attend the school where this book is held. According to the policy, as it stands, that means this challenge isn’t permissible. Blackwell hoped by reading the passage would show community members the importance of making the challenge process more accessible.

The passage described a young girl providing a sex act for the first time.

John Green, the author of “Looking for Alaska,” addressed the Cabarrus County Schools’ discussion via Twitter. He said the passage Blackwell read could not be taken out of context and actually discourages young people from engaging in unemotional sex.

“Looking for Alaska has been in print for 17 years and has been challenged countless times, but I’ve never seen anything like the concerted effort in 2022 to remove it and so many other books from libraries and schools around the country,” he wrote. “We train and employ librarians and teachers to find the right books for the right readers and to build collections and curricula that will help students learn. Preventing these folks from doing their job is making the world worse – for students and for society.”

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Earlier in the month, 132 Cabarrus County residents signed a letter sent to the board that expressed concerns about the new review policy and its transparency about the books under review.

“Continuing to micromanage our teachers and their ability to teach is going to do nothing but continue to push them out of our system,” said parent Courtney Steinberg.

Ultimately, the board decided to send the amended policy back to committees for review before a final vote.