Vancouver parents object to decision to allow controversial book to remain in Fort Vancouver High School library

Gender Queer was removed from Columbia River High School library last year but the Material Review Committee has voted in favor of keeping it in the FVHS library.
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Gender Queer was removed from Columbia River High School library last year but the Material Review Committee has voted in favor of keeping it in the FVHS library

Leah Anaya
For Clark County Today

Editor’s note: Sources for this report asked that Clark County Today publish images from the book Gender Queer, but those images were deemed not suitable for publication.

Clark County parents are asking themselves why the book, Gender Queer, by Maia Kobabe, has been approved to stay in the Fort Vancouver High School (FVHS) library when images from the book are so bad that they can’t be published on a news website. 

Despite the pages of animated pornographic images, which include oral copulation and a naked adult male fondling a naked boy, Darci Fronk, the school’s director of Curriculum and Instruction, said that those pages “do not represent the content of the whole book.” This is one of the main reasons that the Instructional Material Review Committee “voted in favor of keeping the book in the FVHS library,” Fronk said.

In October of last year, Clark County resident Sally Snyder and others challenged the presence of the book in the Columbia River High School library, and it was removed without notice. This is not the case with FVHS. 

“We have been fighting this book since last October,” Snyder said, adding that she and other complainants were stood up by teacher-librarian Kate Burton at a requested meeting. “I attended a meeting in January of this year where the teacher-librarian was supposed to meet with us regarding our request to have Gender Queer removed from the library. She didn’t even show up! That’s in violation of their own policy; their own policy says she’s supposed to discuss ‘the request with the complainant’ and ‘listen carefully to the concerns expressed.’ She didn’t do that; she didn’t bother listening to us.” 

Snyder spoke of school board Procedure 2021, section III, subsection C, labeled “Request for Reconsideration of Library Media Materials.” In it, the policy states that a “resident or staff member of the district wishing to make a complaint regarding library resources will be asked to direct their complaint to the teacher-librarian. The teacher-librarian will attempt to resolve the issue informally by discussing the request with the complainant and listening carefully to the concerns expressed.”

An email shared by Snyder from the president of the board, Sandra Zavala-Ortega, indicated that Burton was absent from the meeting because she was “scared to attend.”

Burton issued her decision on the complaints on Jan. 13, which indicated that the book would remain in the library. Written complaints were filed in appeal, which were sent to an Instructional Material Review Committee for review. An email was sent to those who filed a written complaint indicating that the committee met on Feb. 14 and voted to keep the book in the library. The reasons, according to Fronk’s email, were:

  • “The book is available to high school students, and the book lists the intended audience to be 16 and up.’’
  • “This book is not part of the taught curriculum. It is part of the library collection for students who seek it out. Students who seek out books on this topic are typically those who identify with the subject matter and characters, and finding representation and shared meaning with characters and stories in books for those who have been marginalized can be deeply important for mental health, future success and understanding of oneself.’’
  • “The pages that were read at the board meeting and referenced in the reconsideration request do not represent the content of the whole of the book. While these pages (particularly the images), are not ideal and the committee agrees graphic, controversial, and at times shocking, the concerns of these pages are outweighed by the value to students of the entire work.’’
  • “When the entirety of the book is reviewed, not just a few pages taken out of context, it is clear the purpose of the work as a whole is not to sexually arouse the reader or appeal to a prurient interest. Content of a sexual nature within the book, when taken within the context of the work as a whole, is to help build understanding for the reader of the experiences of someone who is gender nonbinary and the confusion and angst that can result from not matching traditional societal norms, and not yet fully understanding oneself.”

According to section III, subsection D of the aforementioned policy, and based on the date the response from Fronk was received, residents in the district now have six days at the time of this writing to appeal and ask the school board to overturn the decision. Residents can do this via written request to Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Jeff Snell. “The purpose of the board of directors’ review,” the policy states, “will be to determine whether the committee applied the appropriate criteria and followed the proper process.”

Per policy, several considerations are to be made when the library staff are selecting materials to be available in the FVHS, according to section I, subsection E, of Procedure 2021. Some of those considerations are that the book: “Support and be consistent with the general educational goals of the state of Washington and Vancouver Public Schools and the aims and objectives of individual schools and specific courses”; “Meet high standards of quality in factual content and presentation”; “Contain appropriate subject matter for the age, emotional development, ability level, learning styles, and social development of the students for whom they are selected”; “Serve the intended purpose, in both physical format and appearance for library materials”; and “Motivate students and staff to examine their own duties, responsibilities, rights, and privileges as participating citizens in our society, and to make informed judgments in their daily lives.”

Should Dr. Snell decide to uphold the decision made by the committee, no challenge will be recognized in the district against Gender Queer for three years’ time.

Those wishing to contact VPS Superintendent Dr. Jeff Snell can do so at

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