RALEIGH — Wake County’s district attorney will not file criminal charges against the school system for distributing books that some parents say are obscene for containing graphic language and images about sex.
A group of parents and community activists filed nine criminal complaints in December with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office accusing the school system of distributing obscene and pornographic material.
Lorrin Freeman, the county’s district attorney, said that her office has determined that “at this point we don’t believe it’s a criminal matter.”
“We may have thoughts or opinions whether certain materials are appropriate to be on a school shelf,” said Freeman, a Democrat. “That is different from whether it’s a violation of a criminal law.”
Some of the books of concern include “Gender Queer,” “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” “George” and “Lawn Boy.” Those books previously have come under fire in North Carolina from Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and nationally for their sexual content.
Freeman said the appropriate process for the parents to follow is to ask the Wake County school system to remove the materials. Freeman said she will monitor how Wake, which is North Carolina’s largest school district, handles the review process.
The district’s Central Instructional Materials Advisory Committee is in the process of reviewing multiple complaints made about books in various school libraries. On Wednesday, the committee voted 6-1 to support Cary High’s decision to keep “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison in the school’s library collection.
District officials said a formal letter outlining the committee’s recommendation will be available as soon as it is sent to the parent who filed the complaint.
“Lawn Boy” is a coming-of-age story about a 22-year-old man who is growing up in poverty. It has scenes such as the main character talking about a sexual experience involving oral sex with another boy when he is 10 years old at a youth group gathering at their church.
The complainants say the language and images in various books depict oral sex and other sexual acts that go beyond what should be acceptable in Wake County school libraries.
“I’m not a prude,” Wendy Runyon, one of the parents who filed a criminal complaint, said in an interview in December. “But nothing in the books is educational at all. It’s just garbage.”
“Gender Queer” is a graphic novel, or story told in a comic-strip format, about author Maia Kobabe’s journey of identifying as nonbinary and asexual.
Complaints were made to Wake County Public Libraries to remove “Gender Queer” and “Lawn Boy” from circulation. The library system decided in December to keep “Lawn Boy” but remove “Gender Queer” from its shelves.
Library officials announced this week that they’re returning “Gender Queer” to circulation while they review their process for handling book challenges.
“For something to rise to the level of being criminal from the standpoint of materials is a different standard than a standard as to whether that material should be made available to children in school,” Freeman said. “Our office’s role is to identify situations where dissemination of pornographic or inappropriate material crosses that criminal line.”