Metro Weekly

Utah school district suspends reading program over book about transgender boy

Parents objected to the book's content after a third grader brought it in and asked a teacher to read it to the class

Cover of “Call Me Max” by Kyle Lukoff. – Photo: Reycraft Books.

A Utah school district has suspended its book program after a book about a transgender boy was read aloud to third graders.

A third-grade student enrolled in a school in the Murray School District brought a copy of Call Me Max from home and asked the teacher to read the book to the class. The book, by Kyle Lukoff, focuses on a transgender boy figuring out who he is and making new friends.

The teacher was peppered with questions by students, and deflected those questions, including one about puberty, according to Salt Lake City-based FOX affiliate KSTU.

But parents were outraged to learn that the book was read aloud, and voiced their complaints to the school. 

Call Me Max is not among the books in the Murray School District’s Equity Book Bundle program, which was launched in September 2020 in order to expose students to books and topics dealing with issues of diversity. For instance, the program has several recommended books for Black History Month that address topics like the Civil Rights Movement and the history of racial discrimination, or feature Black characters.

The district also has an Equity Council, created in 2019, which is intended to advise the school district on how to promote diversity and tolerance in the classroom by incorporating lessons into the curriculum and including more books by authors of varied backgrounds, especially authors of color, on its reading list.

But the outcry from parents over Call Me Max was so great that the district is suspending the Equity Book Bundle program to ensure that the books approved for classroom use are age-appropriate and do not deal with controversial issues like sexuality or gender identity.

See also: LGBTQ content features in eight of the ten most challenged children’s books in 2019

The district defended the decision to suspend the program and review the recommended materials in a statement.

“The Murray City School District Board of Education, Superintendent and District Office Administration promotes mutual understanding and respect for the interests and rights of all individuals,” the statement reads. “The Board also encourages its educators and members of the community to engage in efforts to eliminate prejudice, build trust, work toward consensus, and resolve disputes promptly, equitably, sensitively, and with civility at the local level.

“As there were many concerns expressed from parents [about the Call Me Max incident], the Murray Board of Education made the decision to further examine both programs to ensure all literature introduced at Murray City School District follows clear policies and procedures. Further that our and the Equity Council’s mission, vision, and participants are better defined and to ensure it is inclusive and representative,” the statement continues. “…Again, we are NOT removing materials that have been in circulation in previous years — many of which were included in the Equity Book Bundle program.”

See also: West Virginia public library attempts to ban LGBTQ children’s book

Amanda Darrow, the director of youth, family, and education at the Utah Pride Center, said she personally recommends Call Me Max as a literary work, and is also upset by the suspension of the Equity Book Bundle Program. She told KSTU that it’s important for children, including trans children, to see themselves in books.

“When we pull the books from the classrooms, that’s saying your identity doesn’t matter,” she said. “We need to see what’s okay to share about you and what’s okay not to share about you.”

Murray City Councilmember Kat Martinez (Ward 1) said she found it “strange and upsetting” — as did many of her constituents — that the reading program would be suspended because of a book brought in by a student from home, noting that the book was not even part of the program.

“I just feel it sends a terrible message to the LGBTQ+ community to pause this council for an incident that has nothing to do with them,” Martinez told ABC4. “And by saying one thing happened that didn’t even have to do with you and we are going to pause your work, even if we are going to use the word ‘pause,’ it sends a, really, terrible message.”

Read more:

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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