Republican school board members bring the book ban debate to Newtown, Connecticut

Thursday night’s big book ban vote didn’t happen in just any red state, where it has become a predictable part of the Kulturkampf.

The vote took place in Connecticut. Not only that, it was in Newtown, a city whose name is a terrible reminder that a single AR-15 poses a greater threat to children than all the books in the world.

Neither of the two books to be banned in Newton had ever been borrowed. The other had only been examined once, nearly a decade ago.

And both had been approved by a special committee of educators and experts in recent weeks.

But Republicans on the Newtown Board of Education aspired to it flamers by Mike Curato and Cover by Craig Thompson was removed from the local high school library like Connecticut was a deranged red state.

After the 20 youth and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School were murdered, calls for a statewide ban on assault rifles were made. Far-right fools continued to insist that civilians should have easy access to such weapons of war, even as another mass shooting at a school was followed by another and another and another.

In recent years, the same ardent opponents of the ban on assault weapons have begun campaigning for a ban on books that professional educators have deemed appropriate for students.

As director of the Cyrenius H. Booth Library in Newtown and the Connecticut Library Association, Douglas Lord was particularly interested in the growing interest in other states about the book ban.

“When people think of it, they think of Florida, Texas, Louisiana,” Lord told The Daily Beast. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s never going to happen in Newtown.'”

Lord recalled looking at the schools’ curricula six years ago when he was considering taking the job at Newtown.

“They actually had a kindness component in the curriculum,” he recalled. “And I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is like a community that heals. They’re progressing, they’re progressing. They take on the horrific murder of 26 people and try to make something constructive out of it.”

As the chief local librarian, Lord receives the school board’s record. And sometime in March he saw the first sign that the book ban craze had begun to spread to Newtown.

“I didn’t think it was going to get anywhere in this community,” Lord recalled.

And the burgeoning anti-book revolt seemed to be over when a five-member special review committee decided unanimously that the two books that had been the subject of complaints should remain in the high school library.

Newtown Schools Superintendent Christopher Melillo confirmed the committee’s decision on May 2, and that should have been the end of the matter.

But the conspiracy intensified at a rowdy May 16 meeting, where the three Democrats on the board moved to allow students continued access to the books. There are four Republican board members, but one was absent due to a family crisis, so the vote ended 3-3 and the rules called for a re-vote at the next meeting. At that meeting, scheduled for Thursday night, the Republican majority was expected to be restored, and then a book ban could arrive in the city, which knows bans should be reserved for real threats like assault rifles.

“The level of suffering and self-actualization that this community has undergone is only then embroiled in a loud, probably not very fertile, cacophony of this kind… it seems kind of out of character,” Lord noted.

The Newtown Meeting House is seen ahead of the 10th commemoration of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut on December 8, 2022.

Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters

History took an unexpected turn Wednesday when two of the Republican board members, Janet Kuzma and Jennifer Larkin, suddenly resigned. Both insisted that this had nothing to do with the issue at hand, but complained that they had been harassed and verbally abused at the previous meeting. Whatever the reason, their retirement meant they didn’t go down in history as book banners.

Lord reckons the vast majority of people he meets in Newtown see no reason for a ban and the fuss it will bring. And Newtown can be a very small town where everyone knows everyone.

“This was very unsettling for the quiet, affluent suburban community of Newtown, Connecticut,” he said.

Since the 2012 mass shooting that killed 26 people, residents have worked to build and maintain the “Newtown Nicer” reputation. Some of this was apparently already at work leading up to Thursday’s meeting.

First there was a public comment period, and the majority of those who took the mic were high school seniors, many of them grads who were in kindergarten when the first graders were shot. They were passionately articulated. And hearing them meant thinking about what would have become of those murdered children who were just a year older in 2014.

Then came the first task. Alison Plante, one of the Democratic board members, re-motioned with a slight twist.

“I move that the Board of Education accept the recommendation of the Special Audit Committee flamers And Cover remain in circulation at the Newtown High School Library,” she said.

Then came a bit of Newtown Nice, as she added, “…provided the administration develops the process to address the concerns of individual parents regarding their children.”

In a brief conversation, it was made clear that the books would remain on the shelves. There was no objection from the chairman or from the other Republican, Don Ramsey, who was again present.

The big moment had come. Five right hands that the board members placed on their hearts at the opening. The oath of allegiance was now taken in a unanimous vote, which meant that the book ban had not caught on in Newtown after all.

There is still the question of banning assault weapons in the red states, who are trying to convey to us that they care about the children.

If only the rest of the disunited United States Newtown were nice.

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