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Book ban? Two Milford parents request withdrawal of 10th-grade novel due to sexual content

Library book shelf
Library book shelf
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 11:02 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI - Milford Exempted Village Schools is reviewing a novel used in 10th-grade English language arts classes after two parents filed complaints.

According to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer, one of the complainants said the book exposed her child to “an unhealthy view of sexuality, pornography, and most important impeding her religious beliefs.”

Located in the northeast suburbs of Cincinnati, Milford Schools serves approximately 6,600 students in Clermont County. Its high school is ranked in the top 60 Ohio schools, according to U.S. News & World Report magazine.

Julia Alvarez’s novel, “In the Time of the Butterflies,” was published in 1994 and adopted into Milford’s curriculum by the school board in the 2014-15 school year, said Milford interim director of communications Melinda Briggs. Set in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, the book is historical fiction and follows three sisters’ involvement in the resistance against Gen. Rafael Leónidas Trujillo’s dictatorship.

Other Milford parents, students and community members have posted about the novel on social media in recent weeks, both condemning and defending the use of the book in a high school setting.

Banned books in Ohio

“In the Time of the Butterflies” is an American Library Association Notable Book and was selected for the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read program, which offers grants to support community reading programs designed around a single book.

The book was removed from a New York high school’s curriculum in the fall of 2000. The Port Washington board of education disapproved of Alvarez’s novel due to a drawing included in it that shows how to build a bomb, according to the New York Times.

“In the Time of the Butterflies” is not currently listed in Pen America’s latest index of banned books in schools in 2021 and 2022, which includes nearly 1,600 titles. The only Ohio district listed in that index is Hudson City School District, which banned four books in the fall: “A Girl on the Shore” by Inio Asano; “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison; “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, and “642 Things to Write About” by San Francisco Writers’ Grotto.

The Hudson city district made national news when former Hudson’s Mayor Craig Shubert wrongly accused the district of distributing “essentially... child pornography.” The book “642 Things to Write About,” used with high school seniors taking a class for college credit, included the prompt: “Write a sex scene you wouldn’t show your mom.” Shubert resigned in February 2022.

The complaints: Novel’s ‘sexually graphic’ content threat to Christian values

The requests for Milford Schools to remove “In the Time of the Butterflies” from school curricula and the library were submitted in late April by two different parents in the district.

The Enquirer is not naming them due to privacy concerns.

These are the only requests to come through the central office in the five years Paul Daniels has been at Milford, he said. Daniels is the director of secondary curriculum and instruction for the district.

One of the parents wrote she read the first four chapters of the book and several pages of the fifth chapter, and believes the theme of the book is “sex and wickedness.” There are 12 chapters in the novel.

She wrote the book normalizes sexual abuse and necromancy, or communicating with the dead, and implies “it is a part of Christianity when it isn’t.”

When asked in the complaint form what she believes the result of reading the book would be, the parent wrote: “Kids who are thinking all of this perversion and wickedness is normal resulting in a very unhealthy view of sexuality as well as some who are more likely to dabble in the occult resulting in harm to others, self harm, suicides, etc.”

The other complainant wrote she read the novel in its entirety and does not recommend the book to any age group except college “if needed.” She said the novel was “hard to follow.”

“Assigning this book is willingly and knowingly pandering obscenity to minors,” the second parent wrote.

One of the questions on the form asked if the complainant was aware of the judgment of the book by professional critics.

“Due to the graphic content of this novel,” the parent said her family’s Christian values supersede “a critics review. Reviews are subjective.”

Book debate ‘blew up’ on Facebook

Aidan Sowder, 18, is a senior at Milford High School. He said he read “In the Time of the Butterflies” in his sophomore honors English class. He said the book mentions sex and puberty, but “it’s not necessarily very graphic, it’s fairly tame by high school book standards.”

About a week and a half ago, Sowder said he saw a post on the Facebook Milford OH Neighborhood Group detailing sexual content in the book. The poster called it “disgusting” and demanded the removal of “In the Time of the Butterfly” from Milford curricula as well as the removal of the faculty who teach the material.

As of Friday, the post had more than 700 comments and was shared more than 20 times.

“It kind of blew up in our community,” Sowder said. Other posts in private Facebook groups were “much, much more aggressive,” he said, calling teachers “groomers” and “sexual predators” and making death threats against teachers and faculty.

Sowder said he doesn’t think the book should be banned, though he understands there are people in the community who wouldn’t want their children reading it.

According to district policy, parents have the right to inspect any instructional materials used as part of the educational curriculum for its students. They can request their child omit a given book and settle on an alternative text with the student’s teacher.

District forms committee for review

Milford Superintendent John Spieser has convened a review committee in response to the official complaints per district policy, Briggs said.

He said the committee is composed of seven members and is a mix of teachers, administrators and parents.

The committee is currently reading the novel and plans to complete its review by Friday, May 13, Briggs said.

The Enquirer reached out to all five Milford school board members on the issue. All either declined to comment or did not respond.

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