By Monica Chen
Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman has not taken any actions following parents filing criminal charges on pornography against Wake schools in recent weeks.
Freeman’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment before Christmas and after the holiday last week.
A group of parents filed nine complaints at the Wake County Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 30, on counts of distribution of pornography and sex offense against juveniles.
The parents say they are concerned the books are “grooming” children to become more susceptible to sexual abuse and sexual assault.
“We are pressing criminal charges because we want these adults to be held accountable, and we don’t want them to ever work with kids again,” said Michele Morrow, a nurse and a mother of four who lives in Cary.
Morrow is a member of Liberty First Grassroots and Education First Alliance. The loose group of parents also include members of Moms For Liberty of Wake County.
The parents had been involved in looking into critical race theory and mask mandates in schools and found out about the books in September. A father found one in his son’s backpack and began contacting school board members. So far, they have identified four books with obscene content: “George,” by Alex Gino; “Lawn Boy,” by Jonathan Evison; “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” by Maia Kobabe; and “Blankets,” by Craig Thompson.
Parents around the country have called on school officials to take action on the same books and others. They point out the books are so explicit, adults can’t even read them out loud. If they read them on television, it would break broadcasting rules.
The Wake parents are citing federal and state laws on distributing obscene content, in particular to minors, as grounds for their removal. They say they do not understand why the books were available in the first place.
“Somebody is making the decision to order these books and make them available online and to make them available in specific elementary schools. We are hoping to figure out the chain of custody,” said Beatrice Setnick, another parent.
The parents are identifying which school libraries the books are available in. They also are looking for help to read through more books for obscene content.
Wake schools are also connected to the public libraries meaning students can check out the same books there online without age restrictions. Before the holidays, Wake County Public Libraries pulled “Gender Queer” from its shelves.
Wake County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Eric Curry said they were waiting for the district attorney to make a decision on the books before taking further action.
“We have begun an inquiry into the complaints. The DA’s office will decide on whether to move forward,” Curry said.
When reached for comment, Wake County Public Schools System spokeswoman Lisa Luten referred to district policies, “Policy Code 3210” and “Regulation Code: 3210-R&P.” They call for principals to set up committees at individual schools to examine questionable content in books. The policies were adopted in February 2017.
“Parents can object to materials. And therefore, because they can object to materials, there is a process for that,” Luten said. “They have to go through the process.”
When asked if WCPSS has any comments on concerns for the parents or the students, Luten said in an e-mail: “Your question was specifically if it is the opinion of the district that these books cause harm to students. The answer to that question is still being determined.”
Wake County Schools Superintendent Cathy Moore did not respond to a request for comment.
“We’ve talked to principals, the school board of Wake County. We’ve talked to Cathy Moore. We’ve talked to (State Superintendent) Catherine Truitt. And there has been absolute silence,” Morrow said. “And that is why we said we’re taking this to the authorities because we must protect our kids. It is compulsory that kids are enrolled in school. And they are now a completely captive audience.”
Morrow also questioned why these books are available but the academics at WCPSS have been allowed to lapse.
Wake County is North Carolina’s largest school district, with about 163,000 students in 191 schools.
“Ten years ago, we were 18th in the country for the best school system. We are now 34th. There is no reason why our children need to be exposed to sexuality and sexual perversion in schools,” Morrow said. “There is a very large difference between teaching kids about the changes their bodies will go through during puberty and making sexual acts between kids common-place. It’s a felony to even give access to this filth to anyone under the age of 18.”
Parents around the country have raised the same concerns, including in Virginia, Texas, Utah, Iowa, Indiana and South Carolina. Some also have filed police reports.
Some elected officials have taken action. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the state’s education commissioner to investigate criminal activity in schools in making the books available.
Last week, Oklahoma state legislators introduced a bill allowing parents to request the removal of a book from school libraries if it contains sexual content. If the employee in charge of removing the book does not do so, according to Fox News, they will be dismissed and not be re-hired for two years.
Morrow said that in recent years in Wake County, there has been more focus on gender and sexuality in schools. More books that are taught now are about sexual struggles or sexual abuse.
“(Kids) are not emotionally, intellectually, spiritually able to handle these topics. Our school systems should be about training our kids to be good, mature adults. It’s not about their identity being wrapped up in their gender and who they’re attracted to,” Morrow said.
“We’re replacing Dr. Seuss with Dr. Ruth. So Dr. Seuss is offensive to people, and this isn’t?” she added.
In fact, the sexual content has become so prevalent that Morrow said she is worried they are amounting to “grooming,” that is, breaking down a person’s defense systems and making them open to and accepting of sexual abuse.
“Children before 10 or 12 years old, they are very concrete thinkers. They’ll believe in Santa Claus. They’ll believe in the Tooth Fairy. If you have children as a captive audience for eight hours a day with an adult telling them something, they’re going to believe that,” Morrow said.
“Children naturally have a God-given protection against an adult coming at them in a sexual way. They are naturally aversive. The adult lures them into something and then they… tell them they have to keep it a secret. So what happens is when we start telling children that it’s natural and it’s just a lifestyle choice, you are naturally taking away their protections,” Morrow said.
“That is what is termed as ‘grooming.’ You’re breaking down their defenses to what naturally in their conscience they know is naturally wrong. And that is what’s going on in schools. And they are doing it to children,” she added.
Morrow is now homeschooling her youngest child.
Setnick said the parents are taking this matter very seriously and she wants the community to pay attention.
“This material certainly falls under the statute for obscenity. It also violates U.S. federal law for transfer of obscene materials, and especially transfer of obscene materials to minors,” said Setnick. “This is a very serious matter in our eyes. It involves sexual acts with children, which is… I just can’t imagine how this is educational to have books describing a 9-year-old child performing oral sex.”
“I see no educational merit. And I am concerned that this is about normalizing sexual behavior in our children. This is nothing but a grooming material,” she added. “A lot of these materials obviously can’t be presented in the media because of the graphic content. If it’s too graphic to be shown, should it be in the hands of a child?”
“Parents need to understand. Lawmakers really need to look at this very closely. This kind of material in the hands of children is very dangerous,” Setnick said.