Carmel school board narrowly votes to keep controversial book in library


Following some lively public discussion, the Carmel Clay Schools board of trustees voted 3-2 at its June 10 meeting to back the district’s media review panel recommendation to keep a controversial book in the Carmel High School library.

Community member Cindy Black, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, had requested “All Boys Aren’t Blue” be removed. The book is a memoir by George M. Johnson, who is Black and queer, about his childhood and college years.

Black, who read a graphic passage from the book, said the high school media specialist told her it wouldn’t be removed because it failed to meet the legal standards of obscenity laws.

“I was confused for the reasoning given because of the book’s focus on incest, sexual abuse, masturbation, (oral sex) and anti-white rhetoric that ran throughout the book,” Black said.

However, nine of the 12 speakers during the 30 minutes allotted for public comment supported the panel’s decision to retain the book.

Dr. Janine Zee-Cheng, a pediatrician and parent of two children in Carmel schools, said the sexual content was not of a prurient nature, which is a criteria of the state’s obscenity law, and that the book shows abuse and trauma.

“That has value because one of your children might read a passage and realize they, too, had that experience,” Zee-Cheng said.

Board members Jennifer Nelson-Williams, Kristin Kouka and Katie Browning voted in favor of the review panel recommendation. Louise Jackson and Greg Brown voted against it.

Nelson-Williams cited information from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute from 2015 that states before the age of 18 one in four Hoosier girls has been sexually abused and one in six boys in Indiana has been sexually abused.

“Thirty to 40 percent of these victims are abused by their family,” she said. “Many of these victims have not recognized that they were victimized, and many of these times it’s by their family.”

Nelson-Williams cited her own personal experience.

“I can speak to being part of the 25 percent of high school girls that were sexually assaulted, being afraid to tell anyone and actually telling someone and not being believed,” Nelson-Williams said. “Being able to hear someone else’s story and know that I wasn’t alone would have been very powerful for me at that time in my life. As we grapple with young people’s mental health, I think it’s important young children feel that they are heard and seen in our community.”

Nelson-Williams said all parents have the right to make their own decisions on what books their children can read.

Jackson said she understood there was a value of understanding the experience of the book’s author.

“However, the graphic nature of the sexual content I’m uneasy with, I’m uncomfortable with, and I wouldn’t hand the book to my children who are of teenage age right now,” she said. “Because of that, I can’t support the book remaining in the library.”

Browning said the book is not part of the curriculum and no instructional time is devoted to it. She said she supports the highly educated and experienced media specialists and teachers.

“They are experts in the field and dedicated to our community and students,” she said.

After reading the book, Browning said she didn’t believe it met the criteria of obscenity or being harmful to minors.

Superintendent Michael Beresford said parents can monitor the books their children read and see what books their children have checked out.

Following the vote, Brown made a motion to have the board discuss the process of following the state law. It passed 3-2 with Browning and Nelson-Williams voting against it.