OCONOMOWOC — Several books involved in a dispute and potential lawsuit involving the Oconomowoc Area School District are available for checkout in county libraries.

Four books were cited in correspondence between lawyers for the school district and for Alexandra Schweitzer, who leveled criticism at the district for what she claimed were age-inappropriate materials regarding sex education and gender identity. Three of the four books were located at the Oconomowoc Public Library and the Pewaukee Public Library: “The 57 Bus” by Dashka Slater, “The Gender Quest Workbook” from New Harbinger Publications and “It’s Perfectly Normal” by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley.

The school district referred a reporter’s questions to its third-party law firm, Buelow Vetter. A message to Buelow Vetter was not responded to Monday.


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According to a letter from Schweitzer’s attorneys, all four books were available through the district’s digital systems or were otherwise used in classroom instruction; however, the school district’s attorneys say they are not currently available, nor are they being used in class following Schweitzer’s public criticism earlier this year.

Schweitzer spoke out against the books during a February hearing to the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Education, and in statements made in May on the No Left Turn in Education organization’s website.

Schweitzer now faces the possibility of a defamation lawsuit after refusing to retract those comments regarding the books and School Board President James Wood.

 

“The 57 Bus”

The book, listed under the young adult section at the Pewaukee Public Library, centers on the true story of Sasha Fleischman, an 18-year-old high school senior who identified as agender — neither male nor female. The book uses the gender-neutral pronoun “they” when describing Fleischman.

In 2013, Fleischman fell asleep on a public bus when the skirt Fleishman wore was set on fire.

The book contains material related to gender identity along with curse words and racial slurs. Portions of the book were read aloud in a Nature Hill Intermediate school classroom but it was not available for check-out by students, according to information contained in letters between attorneys.

 

“The Gender Quest Workbook”

This book is described as a “one-of-a-kind guide to help you be you” for teens and young adults on its back cover. Inside the book are written exercises and advice on how to effectively deal with transgender and gender-fluidity issues. It was located in the young adult section in Oconomowoc.

The book’s introduction says in part: “We are taught many lessons from an early age about gender — what is masculine and what is feminine and how we should think, feel and act accordingly. Yet, for many of us, what we are taught is not the whole story.”

Schweitzer said the book was available for to her fourth-grade son to view through the district’s digital library app, although the district’s subscription to the app has now ended.

 

“It’s Perfectly Normal”

Described as a book for ages 10 and up, “It’s Perfectly Normal” contains cartoonish drawings and descriptions of naked human anatomy and various sexual acts. It is available at multiple public libraries in the area, including in Pewaukee. Chapters of the book broach issues like masturbation, sex, gender identity and homosexuality. This book was also available through the digital library app.

 

Psychologist weighs in

Dr. Paul Florsheim is a clinical psychologist professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health.

He said it is a widely accepted phenomenon for children as young as 10 or below to question their gender and sexuality. He said it is beneficial for these children and their families to have resources available to help them understand their emotions, curiosity and biology.

And while Florsheim said it may not always be appropriate for children around the age of 10 to see drawings and descriptions of sexual acts, being transgender or gay, it could also be harmful to avoid the topic altogether.

“Most people who identify as trans or gay report that those questions, those identities, began to form pretty early,” Florsheim told the Freeman. “There is little value in squashing the exploration of those questions.”

 

District policy

According to the OASD’s online policy manual, “The District shall not unlawfully discriminate in the selection and evaluation of instructional materials or resources on the basis of sex, religion, national origin, color, ancestry, creed pregnancy, marital or parental status, sexual orientation or physical, mental, emotional or learning disabilities.”

The policy also states that material and resources used for instruction are screened for age-appropriateness.

 

Public library policies

According to the Pewaukee Public Library’s policy provided by Director Nan Champe, adults are responsible for supervising their children’s checkouts.

The policy states: “Responsibility for the reading choices of children rests solely with their parents or legal guardians. The Youth Services staff will provide guidance whenever possible, but they are not responsible for children’s or young adult’s reading or viewing choices while they are in the library.”

Oconomowoc Public Library Director Betsy Bleck did not return a voicemail message Monday, but she has previously told The Freeman that a similar policy is also in place in Oconomowoc. She provided the policy for a March 2022 story regarding another children’s book, “Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?”

The policy includes a guideline stating, “Responsibility for children’s choice of Library materials rests with their parent or legal guardian.”