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Virginia School Board Member Who Runs 'Wokeness Checker' Demands Toni Morrison Books Be Banned

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A school board member in Virginia Beach, Virginia is trying to ban several books by popular Black authors such as Nobel laureate Toni Morrison for being "pornographic."

Victoria Manning, at-large school board member with Virginia Beach City Public Schools, sent an email to Superintendent Aaron Spence demanding four books be removed from circulation.

She was joined by board member Laura Hughes who wanted to pull the books "due to their pornographic nature."

The four books in question include Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison; Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe; A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines; and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

On October 5, Manning wrote:

"It has been brought to my attention by some parents that there are some disturbing books in our district that are available to students."
"I would like to ask that you pull these books from shelves and also block any electronic access by students to getting these books IMMEDIATELY."

According to Spence, Manning separately added Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin and Good Trouble: Lessons from the Civil Rights Playbook, a graphic novel by Christopher Noxon, to her list of banned books.

Just this past September, Lawn Boy and Gender Queer were attacked in Fairfax County, Virginia public schools by parents who falsely claimed the books contained pedophilic content.

Manning claimed the books had depictions of people performing oral sex "and many other things that I don't feel comfortable mentioning," but admitted she hasn't read the books, only skimmed. However, she demanded the staff who approve of these books be disciplined.

Both Lawn Boy and Gender Queer have been approved by the American Library Association as appealing to young adults ages 12 to 18.

She also criticized A Lesson Before Dying because of a single moment of a "couple getting undressed." This Ernest Gaines classic addresses racism and racial identity in 1940s Louisiana and is approved for 11th grade curriculum.

Manning wrote she also has not confirmed the contents of The Bluest Eye "firsthand," but believes others' accounts it is unfit for 12th graders.

She said:

"I have not been able to get a copy of this book in my hands but I should be able to get a copy by tomorrow to confirm what is in it."

She referenced one line about sexual desire and continued:

"I've been told there is much more and although I have not confirmed this firsthand but I believe this should be removed from our curriculum and shelves immediately pending review."

Manning has since made a Facebook post discussing her disapproval of a local news article written about her.

She explained an excerpt of the book where a character's father sexually assaults her and said:

"Is this the type of thing you want your child to read?"
"This is what has been vetted by the district as appropriate curriculum. Is this the Social Emotional Learning they had in mind?"
"This type of imagery is discussed multiple times in the book"
" I very strongly believe that some children could be traumatized by reading about this pedophilia and violent rape."
"I have multiple friends who have lived this and I think it could further traumatize children who have been molested and trafficked."
"This isn't what they need to read about in school!!! It certainly traumatized me when I read these books."

According to the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Manning pushed back at the school partnering with a nonprofit on implementing the New York Times 1619 Project. The project teaches students about how slavery shaped American history but according to Manning they're advocating for "leftist ideologies."

Manning has also called a middle school teacher's book study group "appalling and disgusting" for reading The Racial Healing Handbook by Anneliese A. Singh.

Superintendent Spence told The Daily Beast Manning's outrage was unwarranted.

Complaints from parents over any book must be turned over to the superintendent but Spence has received none. He said he has not seen any challenge over these books since he started in this position in 2014.

Spence said the books were not widely available nor checked out of the library often:

"We had one copy of Lawn Boy and it has never been checked out."

In the 11 high schools in the district, only three libraries have a copy of Gender Queer:

"It had only been checked out one time in one of the schools."
"So this isn't a rampant issue."

Per the district's protocol, the books were removed from the shelves while a committee reads and reviews the materials. They will then convene to discuss concerns over its obscenities, age appropriateness and academic freedom.

Spence said the books in their school libraries are "vetted carefully" by library media specialists and chosen with the guidance of national professional organizations and the school district's policies on media and teaching materials.

Spence cautioned:

"Wholesale decisions based on the positions of some stakeholders do not necessarily represent the thinking of all or serve the best interests of our students as a whole."

Manning has a personal website where she spouts her opinions on hot button issues like Critical Race Theory.

She uses a video created by The Heritage Foundation, known for funding the right-wing think tank, as her definition of CRT.

She calls this the "Wokeness Checker" and declares:

"Wokeness and Critical Race Theory (CRT) practices are becoming embedded in our nation's schools, including here in Virginia Beach."

Manning asserts teachers have "intent to indoctrinate" students on topics like diversity, inclusivity, and racial and cultural understanding.

The "Wokeness Checker" page also invites visitors to submit their own documentation of CRT in Virginia Beach schools.

In March, Manning made an appearance on Fox and Friends and said:

"Our students and our teachers are being taught that our country is innately racist, and students and teachers are being pitted against one another based on their skin color."

The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) included A Lesson Before Dying and The Bluest Eye on its list of the Top Ten Banned Books that Changed the Face of Black History and explained the importance of exposing students to a wide variety of materials.

Gaines' book was also awarded the ALA's distinction of "Outstanding Books for the College Bound and Lifelong Learners."