Here’s How One Angry Parent Got All Graphic Novels Pulled From a School District

Internal documents reveal a heated power struggle over who gets to write library book policies–the school district or the parents.
A person stands reading a book in a library surrounded by shelves of books
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Last summer, a school district in Oklahoma pulled thousands of graphic novels from library shelves after receiving complaints from an angry parent who found his teenager reading one of them. 

Now, documents obtained by Motherboard through a public records request reveal the internal chaos that ensued after a parent challenged a school library book. Emails between school board members and the parent, juxtaposed with emails between district administrators over a four month period, give a detailed view of how clashes between educators and parents can result in the removal of hundreds or thousands of titles without meaningful checks or community input. They also show how faculty members and school officials who are already stretched thin struggle to deal with furious parents. 


The documents show that the parent at the center of the challenge sent a series of emails calling administrators at Owasso Public School “perverts” and accusing the district of making pornographic material available to children. 

“If you don’t take a stand, then it might be because you’re the sicko perverts that want to sexualize the children in this district,” the parent wrote in a lengthy, particularly angry email. 

An email sent to an administrator at the Owasso Public School District in Oklahoma

An email sent to an administrator at the Owasso Public School District in Oklahoma

Some emails obtained by Motherboard with subject lines like "Child porn in the schools (pictures)," "Child porn/child rape distributed by Owasso Public School District," "Child porn/child rape/softcore porn being distributed by OPS district," and "pornographic material being distributed to my child" were redacted by the district. 

Others show school board members and superintendents dealing with the angry parent, talking to each other about the workload and psychological impacts of banning books en masse, and telling the parent that the graphic novel in question, Blankets by Craig Thompson, had been removed from circulation. The board member added that “In addition, all graphic novels are being pulled and reviewed at this time.” 

Blankets is an autobiographical story about the author’s questioning of his Christian upbringing, and it’s unclear why the parent’s challenge of the book prompted the school district to pull thousands of graphic novels from library shelves. The parent repeatedly refers to Blankets as “pornographic material” and “Anime porn,” citing “explicit, graphic images of sexual activity.” 


Thompson’s autobiographical novel is about growing up and questioning the restraints of religious doctrine, and it does have romantically involved scenes. There are illustrations of penises in different sections of the book, including in a flashback where the main character’s brother pees on him as a joke.

Jeff Trexler, interim director of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, says that when people start throwing the word “pornography” at educators, it’s usually a trap. 

“What they’re doing is they’re putting the administrators, putting the school board on the defensive and trying to get them to define an entire book,” Trexler told Motherboard. “Taken as a whole, [Blankets] is not pornographic. It's not even pornographic in a colloquial sense. Pornography is something that doesn't have really significant literary, artistic, political or scientific content.”

While crafting the district’s book selection policy, teachers wrote that they felt hamstrung by having to field complaints from parents every time the school wanted to order a book. 

“I am concerned that our library media specialists could be so afraid of being accused of sexualizing our students that they go too far the other way, denying students access to books that may have great relevance and literary value,” one board member wrote on November 13. 


“[It] feels like our (the librarians) professional judgment is not trusted,” one teacher wrote, in reference to an early draft of the selection policy, which would have granted school librarians final approval on library books if a school board-approved review committee approved the selections as well. “This is just adding one more thing to our plate,” the teacher added, noting that asking more people to sign off on what librarians are trained to do could make the act of ordering a book cumbersome. 

The documents indicate the district looked at language from seven different policies and went with a modified version of one of the few that mentioned anything about sexually explicit materials at all. Superintendent of Owasso Public Schools Margaret Coates noted in an October 13, 2022 email that she was comparing language from other district’s book selection policies “[in] an effort to address the fear that we may somehow allow ‘pornography’ on our library shelves, by not including a statement about pornography.”

A spokesperson for Owasso Public Schools told Motherboard that there have been no challenges to books since the current policy was implemented in November, and all but 17 graphic novels have been returned to district library shelves. The 17 titles still under review “are being put through the reconsideration process out of an abundance of caution,” the spokesperson said. 


As the district worked its way through the decision, emails show that the parent repeatedly advocated for the policy to include language that expressly denounce visual depictions of sexual activity. And as months wore on, the parent's emails grew increasingly more angry toward school board members. 

In a separate email to one particular school board member he appeared to find a some sense of camaraderie with, he wrote, “I feel like you’re much more approachable than anyone else. You’ve been more responsive to me than all other board members combined. You, at least, come across like you give a damn. That’s why I’m reaching out to you personally to ask: What the hell is going on here?”

"The school filters access to anime porn (which is what this amounts to) so why are we letting kids check out material just because it happens to be in the form of a book," the parent wrote in another lengthy email. "You have an opportunity to fix something that is amiss. If you don't take this opportunity, I think you'll have a lot of parents very upset by it."

The American Library Association (ALA) recently released new data that found that book challenges have increased more than 40% between 2021 and 2022, with 32% of all challenges including more than one title. Far-right groups like Moms For Liberty have targeted books representing LGBTQ+ and people of color, and some members of the group have been elected to  local school boards. Meanwhile, new obscenity laws in states like Oklahoma now impose severe penalties on schools for having materials that a single parent objects to. 

Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, says school districts capitulating is a direct response to some of this legislation. 

“Graphic novels have always been a larger target for censors because they have images and images are more quickly absorbed, they have greater emotional impact, intellectual impact, so we’ve always seen graphic novels draw challenges,” Caldwell-Stone told Motherboard. “School districts are making decisions to avoid liability, to avoid financial penalties and that’s all been weaponized by state legislatures who are now utilizing these complaints that are based in misinformation and disinformation to play to their base.”