Editor's Note: This story has been updated from its print version to reflect comments from Chatham County Schools and further information regarding the district's policy regarding the distribution of outside materials.
PITTSBORO — The head of Chatham’s chapter of Moms for Liberty — the organization which endorsed and heavily promoted the candidacies of Jessica Winger and Tim Moore, who lost their races for school board — addressed Chatham’s Board of Education last Thursday, coming to “dispel rumors” about its mission.
Amy Kappelman, who started Chatham’s Moms for Liberty group earlier this year, was the only speaker during the public comment period of Thursday’s meeting.
The national Moms for Liberty organization has widely called for increased parent input in school curriculum, made widespread claims about Critical Race Theory — using it as a catch-all phrase for race-related school issues — and attacked LGBTQ+ students by frequently supporting “Don’t Say Gay” bills, and moving to remove queer-focused literature from schools. Most recently, the organization made national headlines last week when South Carolina school board members, six of whom were endorsed by Moms for Liberty, in the Berkeley School District moved to fire the district’s first Black superintendent and the district’s lawyer, ban CRT and establish a committee that would decide whether certain books and materials should be banned, NBC News reported.
Kappelman said she came to the meeting Thursday to talk about the organization and explain what its aims are on a local level. She said the media has painted a false narrative of M4L — as its known — including making claims that it bans books.
Kappelman told board members the organization locally and nationally has “never banned books.”
The organization has, however, called for school boards across the state and country to “consider the age appropriateness” of certain books and educational materials. Under that guise, it has predominantly called out books that express themes regarding the LGBTQ+ community, protagonists of color and stories of political activism or religious persecution.
According to PEN America, a non-profit aimed at improving civil liberties and free expression, there were 2,532 instances of individual books being banned, affecting 1,648 unique book titles across the country, between July 2021 and June 2022. Sixteen of those instances occurred in North Carolina; none occurred in Chatham County.
Kappelman told board members the organization would not move to ban books in the county.
The rise in book banning or questioning has largely been attributed to Moms for Liberty and its adjacent groups. M4L now has more than 200 chapters across the country. PEN America estimates around 20% of the book bans enacted in the time frame could be linked directly to the actions of these groups, with many more likely influenced by them.
Chatham Moms for Liberty, according to Kappelman, was created because of a perceived lack of transparency by the school board.
“Our chapter came about because, despite the effort to participate in listening sessions, focus groups and board meetings, the legitimate concerns of a large group of parents have been repeatedly ignored,” Kappelman said. “It was, and still is, our sincere goal to give voice to these disenfranchised parents and seek out solutions that work for all Chatham County families.”
She said the other reason she attended the meeting was because she believed CCS was “inexplicably” moving to “ban” the U.S. Constitution. She said this was the case because a nonprofit organization donated pocket-sized copies of the Constitution to Moms for Liberty, which they were planning to distribute to 8th graders across CCS.
In mid-September, Kappelman said she gave the pocket Constitutions to the district offices, but the district has not yet given them to students. The district has requested approval from parents and guardians before distributing them.
"The district received the pocket Constitution donations after Constitution Day in September, which is when it would have been timed well with curriculum," said Nancy Wykle, public information officer for Chatham County Schools. "We receive an array of donations, and how we distribute them varies by amount, time and resources. Once the donation is made to the district, how and when it is distributed is up to the district."
The official policy of CCS is outlined in Policy 5210: Distribution of Non-School Materials. The policy gives the district discretion regarding the distribution of materials, which can include asking for parental consent to distribute materials.
Parental consent is also required for other school-related activities and materials including athletics, field trips, health education, surveys of students, social media portrayals of students and more. A full list of CCS district policies is available online.
Wykle said CCS heard from several concerned parents who did not want their students to receive the pocket Constitutions. Those parents "disagreed with positions taken by the donating organization," Wykle said.
"Our decision was to contact all 8th grade families to let them know this resource was available and allow them to make the decision about whether they would like for their child to receive one," Wykle told the News + Record.
The Constitutions were donated by 917 Society, a nonprofit whose aim is to provide copies of the Constitution to 8th grade students across the country and “ensure our children learn the value in and the contents of the founding principles of our nation’s most sacred document,” according to its website. 917 has partnered with Moms for Liberty chapters across the country and lists several chapters as some of its top donors on its website.
“Interestingly, Moms for Liberty across the country has been accused of book banning simply because we ask for parental consent on certain age-inappropriate books,” Kappelman said. “Therefore, by this measure is Chatham County Schools banning our Constitution? It’s a reasonable thought. Reasonable people understand asking for parental consent is not the equivalent to banning books.”
She went on to say she believed the Chatham school board is not doing enough to address bullying and mental health concerns in CCS. Kappelman’s remarks extended beyond the allotted three minutes for public comments, at which point she was cut off by board chairperson Gary Leonard, who defeated Moore in the November election. (Incumbent Del Turner defeated Winger.)
Kappelman provided a copy of her full prepapred remarks to the News + Record after the meeting. She said she was frustrated at having her remarks cut short because she was the only person signed up to speak.
“I had hoped for more curiosity and grace from those in the room,” Kappelman said. “We all have the same interests: Our children’s well-being.”
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