Parents and conservative activists on Thursday urged legislators to restrict public school lessons about race and ban school library books they consider obscene.

But the proposals were met with a flood of opposition from educators, parents, social workers and others who said the three bills are based on false information that sows fears about what and how students are taught in public schools.

Emotions ran high at the public hearing before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, which heard and received written testimony from more than 200 people, the vast majority in opposition to the bills.

One bill, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Adams, R-Lebanon, would prohibit classroom lessons related to race that Adams incorrectly labeled as critical race theory. His bills also would ban social and emotional learning, and diversity, equity and inclusion from school curricula.

Another bill, sponsored by Sen. James Libby, R-Standish, would bar public schools from providing students with books and other materials that could be considered obscene. And a third, sponsored by Rep. Gary Drinkwater, R-Milford, would establish a rating system for school library books somewhat comparable to that of movie ratings.

The bills come to the State House amid an ongoing nationwide culture war over what public school students should be taught and who should make those decisions.


One side says schools should focus strictly on academics, teaching students math, English, history and science, while discussions of race, equity, diversity and emotional skills should be outlawed. The other says it’s impossible to accurately teach subjects like history and English and prepare students to be engaged and informed adults without reading books that highlight sometimes complicated lived experiences or discussing topics such as racism, slavery and oppression, and that students wouldn’t be able to succeed in school without being prepared to socialize, manage their emotions and ask for help. Both sides say the nation’s children and the future of the country are at stake.


“I am a parent of a middle schooler and I have a lot of concerns over the obscene material that has been brought to the forefront being shared with our minor children at public schools,” Crystal Cormier of Standish said in written testimony supporting Libby’s bill.

Cormier said she has spoken against specific library books in her school district, where the school board temporarily removed some school library books last month. She said some school library books “describe lewd sexual acts, pedophilia, rape, incest, masturbation and much, much more. … I want this filth out of public schools.”

Patricia Frechette of Standish submitted testimony in support of Adams’ bill.

“Critical race theory, social and emotional learning, and diversity, equity and inclusion should not be taught to young children and young adults,” she wrote. “These ideas should remain in college or not even be taught at all. This thinking leads to hate amongst the races. … Children are born without prejudices. Why do we need to show them prejudice?”


Those opposed to the bills voiced a wide range of reasons for their objections, but one notion that wove together much of the testimony against all three bills was that they are based on inaccurate information or, in some cases, bigotry and fear.

“These bills aren’t written to protect anyone, but are about targeting vulnerable people to make them feel unwelcome – and further destabilize our public schools,” said Emily Connelly, a Portland parent and a librarian who testified against the obscene materials bill.

“Each of these bills is designed to close minds and make information inaccessible. They are clearly intended to maintain a desperate hold on a system that harasses, bullies and ‘others’ kids from identities that have traditionally been marginalized,” said Erin Lloyd, a Hallowell parent. “They are also clearly designed to uphold systemic racism that we should instead be continuing to dismantle.”

Rachel Riendeau Caughey of Westbrook said social and emotional learning is important and that students need to learn about diversity, racism and inclusion in order to stop a cycle of harm to marginalized groups.

She recalled a sixth-grade classmate who had escaped genocide in Cambodia only to be mercilessly teased for the ways he was different from his predominantly white classmates. Caughey, now a sociocultural anthropologist, mental health services researcher and soon-to-be parent, said she is pained to this day that she didn’t stand up for him.

“I learned too late that teasing was rooted in fear of difference, in a lack of guidance in how to process these feelings, in colorism and white supremacy that devalues people who are darker in skin tone, and in ignorance unknowingly passed down from parents, teachers and school staff,” she said.



Although opponents said all three bills are based in fallacy, the one that got the most heat was Adams’ bill, which would prohibit the teaching of content he labeled critical race theory, as well as banning social emotional learning, and diversity, equity and inclusion instruction.

Critical race theory is an academic theory arguing racism is ingrained in law and modern institutions, creating an uneven playing field for people of color. Public school students learn about topics such as slavery and historical racism, but critical race theory is not taught as part of school curriculums.

Social emotional learning teaches students how to get along with people who may be different from themselves, manage their emotions and seek help. Diversity, equity and inclusion discussions are aimed at helping students learn to respect, understand and respect cultures and experiences different than their own.  

Adams’ bill defines critical race theory and equity lessons as teaching students that certain people are better than others, that character is connected to race and that individuals of certain races are inherently oppressive. He did not respond to a question about how he came up with those definitions. During the hearing, he was asked to show the committee examples of these lessons being taught and said he would provide them.

Libby’s anti-obscenity bill would ban schools from providing students with books and other materials considered obscene – defined by Maine law as materials that depict sexual acts, excretion or images of genitals in a manner clearly offensive to the average person and lacking any literary, artistic, political or scientific value. Libby suggested that the impact of his bill would be small but important, protecting students from inappropriate books by removing individual or groups of pages from specific materials.

Drinkwater pitched a similar argument for his bill, saying it would shield students from books inappropriate for them by only allowing books of certain ratings in certain school libraries.

Those opposed to Libby and Drinkwater’s bills argued that the lawmakers incorrectly assume schools and educators are providing students with inappropriate materials and that they don’t seem to understand the roles of librarians, who are trained to vet books, organize them based on appropriateness for age or grade level, and suggest certain books based on what they think would be valuable for a student.

Many also noted that schools in Maine have local control and that districts have policies and processes in place where parents can bring up concerns about material.

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