DIXFIELD — The Regional School Unit 56 board of directors on Tuesday discussed a proposed policy that if approved would remove all books containing sexually explicit material from district libraries.

The policy was drafted by Director Kathleen Szostek of Dixfield.

If the policy is approved by directors, it would remove all books containing sexually explicit material and could replace them with an alternative “that does not have explicit sexual content.”

In August 2022, the board voted 7-2 to ban “Gender Queer: A Memoir” written and illustrated by Maia Kobabe. The 2019 publication recounts Kobabe’s journey from adolescence to adulthood and the author’s exploration of gender identity and sexuality, according to multiple online sources.

RSU 56, which includes Dixfield, Canton, Carthage and Peru, is the only district in the state to ban it from its library shelves.

A committee created to review the book in June 2022 said then that it was valuable for students.


Directors decided to keep it in the library following the committee’s approval but that was overturned following written appeals from Bonnie McKenna, a Peru mother with a daughter in elementary school and a senior at the high school; Sarah Cole, a Peru mother of three who attend Dirigo Elementary School; and Elizabeth Kelly of Dixfield, who became a director July 1.

In Szostek’s proposal titled Materials in the Schools’ Libraries and Curricula, she writes that the purpose of RSU 56 “is to educate students in basic skills (reading, writing and arithmetic), the ability to think critically. It is incumbent on the board to ensure that the highest quality materials are used for this purpose,” she wrote.

“If a topic is to be explored, an alternative book or materials shall be sought that does not have explicit sexual content,” she wrote.

Library educational technician Kristin Arsenault and librarian Cindy Petherbridge told directors Tuesday that they are against Szostek’s proposal. They brought a petition signed by 18 school staff members who are also against the proposal.

“It’s not the books that are causing mental illness in our young people but it’s the digital age,” Petherbridge said.

Teachers Karolyn Buotte, Dianna Dority and Lea Nolette told also spoke against the proposal.


Nolette said books at the schools are reviewed for their appropriateness for students. The “the policy does more harm than good,” she said.

Dirigo High School senior Ella Hines and junior Daisy Sweatt also objected to the proposal.

Sweatt said the wording was “subjective and vague,” and finding substitutes for these enduring classics makes the policy “unfit to be implemented in our school in any capacity.”

Pam Doyen, district superintendent and principal of Dirigo High School, said she thought “the perception of what is happening in schools is not the same as the reality of what is happening in schools.” She said, ayone can “access the full catalog of what’s in our libraries on our website.

“So, I think unfortunately what’s happening is there is a societal division happening that is being brought in here,” she said.

“We have very professional people choosing what books to put in front of our kids at all grade levels in our district and we have a policy that states how we select curricular and library materials,” Doyen said.


Director Don Whittemore of Carthage told Szosket, “What you’re trying to do is throw this out here to ban a lot of books. We’re not here to ban books. I think we’re wasting time. I personally have got better things to do than sit here and argue over this.”

Szostek said she is “really tired of the banning books narrative… These books are still printed. They’re available anywhere. They’re not banned.”

“I strongly stand against censorship, but I was really happy that ‘Gender Queer’ was removed from the library,” she said.

Directors will meet with the Policy Committee and librarians to give the committee members more information on how books are vetted for the schools’ curriculum and libraries.

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