In a recent incident that has sparked significant controversy, an experienced teacher with a career spanning over two decades has faced police involvement due to her selection of reading material for her middle school students.
Sarah Bonner, the educator in question, organized a “book tasting” event in March, offering her students a diverse selection of fiction and nonfiction titles. One of the books presented was Juno Dawson’s “This Book Is Gay”. This particular choice quickly triggered an intense uproar, as some parents expressed their concern to the point of involving law enforcement over the chosen book.
“I wanted to give them a smattering of fiction and nonfiction to choose from on a day that we call ‘Reading Monday,’” Bonner told Today.com. “We just read and celebrate books.”
The 42-year-old Bonner found out that parents had come across pictures of the book, taken by their eighth-grade children during class.
This discovery led the concerned parents to take drastic action, resulting in a police report being filed against Bonner on charges of child endangerment.
“The notion that I was putting children in danger because of books — I didn’t feel safe,” Bonner told Today. “I knew I couldn’t go back.”
In an intriguing twist of events, the top-ranked nonfiction book, touted by publishers as an informative resource accessible to “everyone, regardless of gender or sexual preference”, has been marked as the ninth most frequently banned publication in the United States, as noted by Publishers Weekly.
The unfolding drama took an unexpected turn for Bonner, a former employee of Heyworth Junior High School. After getting wind of a police report, she received a notice informing her about her administrative leave from the school.
This official notification, as scrutinized by Today, indicated that the district had “recently became aware of certain allegations” aimed at Bonner. The district was then undertaking an inquiry into these accusations. During the process of this investigation, Bonner was instructed “not to perform any duties for the school district.”
Subsequently, Bonner chose to submit her resignation instead.
“My first instinct was the kids,” Bonner said, noting that many spoke of how her classroom was always “a safe place” during a special board meeting where the district voted to accept her resignation.
In a recent interview, Bonner expressed her commitment to fostering an inclusive environment for students by providing them access to a variety of literary works. These works encompass themes and characters representing black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ communities.
She voiced concern about her departure’s impact on the students, questioning, “If I represent a sanctuary, and I’m moving on, what does that mean for our students?” Bonner’s pedagogical approach is primarily driven by the question, “What about the kids?”
Regarding the recent controversy, Bonner appeared incredulous, blaming the escalating national “culture war” that, in her opinion, triggered the initial objection to the book.
She acknowledges parents’ intimate understanding of their own children, but stresses that her role entails nurturing and caring for every student.
“In regards to the book that was challenged in my classroom, it was a message to the LGBTQ+ community in my room and in my district that they’re ‘less than,’” she said.
PEN America reported that during the 2021-2022 academic year, over 1,600 books were banned. More than 50% of these banned or challenged books contained LGBTQ+ themes.
In 2022, the American Library Association reported an unprecedented surge in attempts to ban books within the United States.