“It has come to my attention that public schools in South Carolina may be providing students with access—whether in school libraries, electronic databases, or both—to completely inappropriate books and materials, including sexually explicit and obscene images or depictions,” McMaster said in a memorandum to the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) on Wednesday.
McMaster referred to an incident in the Fort Mill School District in which he said parents petitioned to remove “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe.
“If the school personnel had performed even a cursory review in this particular instance, it would have revealed that the book contains sexually explicit and pornographic depictions, which easily meet or exceed the statutory definition of obscenity,” McMaster said.
For the material to have surfaced in the school system, McMaster said there must have been a breakdown in the screening of what books are allowed in the schools.
“Therefore, I respectfully request that the Department of Education promptly investigate this matter on a statewide basis and identify whether any systematic policy or procedural deficiencies exist at the state or local levels, or both,” he said.
‘Graphic in Detail and Content’
In a Nov. 2 Fort Mill School Board meeting, a parent who spoke during public comment said a father in her neighborhood had shared with her books he found in their children’s high school “that are quite graphic in their detailed explanation, content, and even in graphic images.”
“I tend to trust but verify so I looked into it myself,” she told the board.
She said the books she examined were “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” “Lawn Boy,” and “All Boys Aren’t Blue.”
“Let me preface by saying that no one’s targeting material about gender issues in and of themselves,” the parent said. “We know many students are faced with this topic and we support education on social issues to further understanding and compassion. The issue with these books is their explicit content and images. Upon viewing them, you will find detailed sexual encounters, sometimes between adult and minor, and even graphic comic book-like images of sexual acts. I believe these amount to pornography and rape.”
Parents are aware of explicit content and tenets of critical race theory being taught in schools, she said, “even if unbeknownst to the ones teaching it” due to its rebranded terms.
The parent said she’s researched how the material is coming into the schools, and that the school district should consider discontinuing its contracts with the Discovery Education curriculum and technology aid company, as well as the Follet library management system company.
“Honestly, the time for the board to trust that someone is filtering the content coming into our children’s libraries and curricula has expired, too,” the parent said.
Fort Mill School’s Response
Joe Burke, a communications officer with Fort Mill Schools, told The Epoch Times that the district has initiated a review process after receiving a complaint about the book.
“The book has been removed from circulation in two high school media centers and through our online catalog while the review process is completed,” Burke said.
According to Ryan Brown, a communications officer with the SCDE, Superintendent Molly Spearman was alerted to the presence of the book containing explicit material last week.
“To be clear, books located in the libraries and media centers are not funded by and do not go through the state instructional materials process,” Brown told The Epoch Times. “They are selected by local school and district officials.”
The SCDE contacted the superintendent of Fort Mill, who Brown said had already instructed staff to remove the book.
“At the statewide meeting of district superintendents later that week, the topic was discussed, and districts were provided with the book name and publisher so they could review their library and media center materials for appropriateness,” Brown said. “When the South Carolina Department of Education opened up the statewide review of state-funded and adopted instructional materials this week, which do not include locally adopted library books, we reiterated the need for districts to review their own adopted materials.”
In a Nov. 9 memorandum to district superintendents, State Superintendent Molly Spearman said it was a “fitting time for each district to review their own purchased texts, including those used in classrooms, libraries, and media centers to ensure they are age and content appropriate.”
Brown said that though each district has its own review process, in this instance the district failed to vet the book and that the SCDE has begun an inspection of district policies on purchasing texts.
McMaster asked that the SCDE develop parent-involved statewide and transparent oversight procedures on assessing material for schools, adding that what he had seen in the material was “likely illegal under South Carolina law.”
“Accordingly, by copy of this letter, I am notifying the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division of this matter for further evaluation,” McMaster said.