The DA will not file pornography charges against the Wake school system

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Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman will not file a criminal lawsuit against the school system for distributing a book that some parents said was obscene because it contained graphic language and images about sex.

A group of parents and community activists filed nine criminal charges in December with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office accusing the school system of spreading pornographic and obscene material.

Freeman said the office has determined that “at this time we do not believe this is a criminal issue.”

“We may have any thoughts or opinions on what particular materials are appropriate to have on school shelves,” Freeman, a Democrat, said in an interview Wednesday with The News & Observer. “This is different from what violates criminal law.”

Some of the books targeted include “Gender Queer,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” “George” and “Lawn Boy.” The books were previously burned in North Carolina by Republican Lieutenant Gov. Mark Robinson and nationally for sexual content.

Wake review of parent complaints

Freeman said the appropriate process for parents is to ask the Wake County school system to remove the material. Freeman said he will monitor how Wake, which is the largest school district in North Carolina, handles the review process.

On Wednesday, the district’s teaching materials review committee examined one of the complaints filed about the book. The committee discussed the complaint behind closed doors, citing the privacy rights of the parents who made the complaint.

The school district did not immediately announce the committee’s findings.

The complainants said that the language and images in the various books depicted oral sex and other sexual acts that went beyond what should be acceptable in the Wake County school library.

“I’m not prude,” Wendy Runyon, one of the parents who filed the criminal complaint, said in an interview in December. “But in those books there’s nothing educational. It’s just rubbish.”

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Not a criminal offense

“Gender Queer” is a graphic novel, or story told in comic-strip format, about the author’s journey to identify as non-binary and asexual. An analysis by The News & Observer found “some sexual scenes in this book, as well as some illustrations involving nudity and erotic scenarios.”

“Lawn Boy” is an upcoming story about a poor 22 -year -old man. It features scenes such as the main character talking about a sexual experience involving oral sex with another boy when he was 10 years old in a youth group at a church.

“Gender Queer” was removed from the shelves of the Wake County Public Library after a complaint. Library officials announced this week that they’re returning “Gender Queer” to circulation while they review the process for handling book challenges.

“For something to rise to the level of being criminal from a material standpoint is a different standard than the standard for what material should be available to children in school,” Freeman said. “The role of our office is to identify situations that spread pornography or inappropriate material across these criminal lines.”

In this case, Freeman said the complaint did not meet high standards as a criminal offense because of First Amendment speech issues.

Criminal investigation in the national books

Parents have appeared on school grounds nationally to complain about books they are told are not given to students. But a recent wrinkle in the debate over explicit books in schools and public libraries is an attempt to find criminal charges.

In November, South Carolina Republican Governor Henry McMaster ordered the State Law Enforcement Division to investigate whether any state law is violated because of “obscene and pornographic material” in state public schools, The State newspaper reported.

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered a criminal investigation of similar material in state public schools.

Florida school board members filed a criminal complaint in November accused the district of violating pornography laws for having the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue” in the school library, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The book contains sexual content and features author George M. Johnson’s reflections on growing black and weird.

A Wyoming couple filed a criminal complaint against a librarian accusing them of providing books on sex education and LGBTQ themes to young people who violate porn laws. But the prosecutor decided in October not to file charges, the Associated Press reported.

A related story from the Charlotte Observer

T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the important role that education plays in North Carolina. The primary focus is Wake County, but it also includes education issues across the state.



The DA will not file pornography charges against the Wake school system

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