Dearborn schools' next meeting on LGBTQ books comes with seating cap, sign rules

Dearborn Public Schools will hold another meeting on books Thursday following the sudden cancelation of Monday's discussion after protesters and angry parents descended on the conference room.

However, Thursday's meeting will come with more rules as it prepares for dozens of speakers at Stout Middle School. It's scheduled to start at 7 p.m. That includes no signs larger than 3 x 3 feet and a seating cap of 600 people.

There will be some overflow seating available in the school gymnasium. The meeting will also be broadcast live in the cafeteria and on the district's YouTube page, it said in a statement.

Monday's meeting ended after a boisterous crowd upset with the district's policy on literature that discusses sexuality piled into the room and shouted over the board members. Many held signs with anti-LGBTQ sentiments. The meeting only ended after the board members walked out to the chants of protesters shouting "vote them out."

"We don't need to be acting like mobsters. There is no need for this," said Osama Siblani.

Siblani, the longtime publisher of the Arab American News, says he understands some parents may have concerns about what they call sexually explicit books in the school library, but this is not the way to address it.

"The school has already responded to them. They have issued the committees. The committees are reviewing the books. The books are off the shelf," he said.

Rev. Dr. Roland Stringfellow, who ministers to a largely LGBTQ congregation, worries about the message being sent with scenes like this.

"We are definitely sending bad messages to the young people by yelling and telling them you can't have this, and it's really attacking their personhood," he said.

However, the attendees argue their protests were about the content of the books allowed at the district and not homophobia. 

"With regards to the book banning, this isn't a book banning, this is sexually explicit material - pornography in the classrooms," said one parent. "We're talking about kids that are between 12 and 16 years of age that are reading these books on graphic detail."

Debbie Mikula, the executive director of the Michigan Library Association, said nobody likes everything in a library but the collection has to have something for everyone. Parents can opt to challenge a book, but they must be left on the shelves until the challenge and reconsideration process are complete, something Dearborn schools will do in the future.

"The Supreme Court back in 1982 determined that removing books from a school because certain people simply disliked the ideas contained in those books violated the First Amendment rights of students," she said. 

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"We need to pull back and have a good rational discussion about what's right for our kids and what's right for our schools and that's the America I want to live in," said another.

The meeting is expected to last at least three hours. Speakers will be limited to three minutes a person.