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Several residents challenge Denton ISD leaders to review books, material they call pornographic

During the first open forum of the Denton ISD board meeting on Tuesday night, five residents challenged board members to insist school leaders review books and audiobooks they say contain pornography.

School board meetings cede the floor to residents and guests in three separate open forums, which allow a speaker to address the elected leaders, administrators and superintendent for three minutes.

About five speakers on Tuesday shared concerns about vulgar language in books they said were available at libraries in Myers and Rodriguez middle schools, and at Denton, Ryan, Guyer and Braswell high school libraries. They also told trustees that they were concerned with depictions of sexual assault and sexuality in library books. None of the speakers said the materials were assigned reading for students.

Whitney Donahue told the board that the process to request a review of material was not straightforward, and that it took her four weeks to get the necessary form to start the process.

“It’s not a political thing at all,” she said. “It’s a moral thing. These books should not be in the hands of our children.”

In the run-up to Saturday’s school board election, candidates clashed over the content of books available to students through school libraries and in teachers’ classroom collections. Amy Bundgus, who unseated Place 3 trustee and board President Douglas Chadwick in a very narrow victory, made the issue a major part of her campaign and said parents and teachers in Denton ISD had come to her with concerns about sexual content in library materials.

Chadwick, who hasn’t yet conceded the race, and Charles Stafford in Place 5 pushed back on such claims during their campaigns. Mia Price, in Place 4, told the Denton Record-Chronicle she’d been made aware of one book that she thought wasn’t suitable, and believes schools have to be cautious about what books end up on the curriculum and in the school library. Stafford delivered the harshest response at a campaign forum, asking why complaints hadn’t been brought to the district for formal review. Both Price and Stafford were up for reelection and fended off challengers at the polls on May 7.

Another speaker at the meeting, Debi Scaggs, called the issue “a growing problem” and gave trustees a list of 84 books available in school libraries she said are problematic. She also offered a rating system devised by parents. She shared titles and the number of vulgar or inappropriate words in them.

“There are many, many books filled with obscenities, sexual assault, depictions of violence against women, and explicit heterosexual and homosexual sex,” she said. “When is this board going to at least discuss this issue? If this board doesn’t address this, we will be back to draw attention to it. ... You are our elected officials and we deserve to know where you stand on pornography.”

Speaker Donna Smith, whose two adult daughters attended Denton schools, told the board her granddaughter would be attending Denton ISD as a kindergartner this fall.

“I’m just concerned, and she’s a sweet baby,” Smith said. “She’s not going to be reading these, but she’s not going to be 5 forever. She won’t be in kindergarten forever. I’m just concerned for the other moms and dads, and grandparents who actually may not be aware that pornography is available to them.”

Smith said she’d brought a list of books, including some material available to students that she’d considered reading aloud, and said she learned “the C-word,” a vulgar euphemism for female genitalia, in one of the titles.

“I have some incredible things that I could read to you, but I’m trying to decide if the young lady here would be offended, so that’s an issue to me,” Smith said, motioning to a Braswell High School student who attended with her classmates for a scheduled presentation. “And so my my question is, if your grandparents — if your moms or dads — would you want to sit next to your child and have them read that? Would you want to sit with your child and read that to them? And the answer is probably no.”

Library books have become a rallying point for conservative lawmakers in Texas over the past year. In October, Republican Matt Krause, the representative for District 93 in the Texas House of Representatives, sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency requesting an investigation into 850 books, many of which touch on race, gender and sexuality and are written by LGBTQ writers or writers of color. Krause asked the agency to determine which libraries and classrooms included the books, how many copies there were and how much money school districts spent on them.

Denton ISD didn’t respond to Krause’s letter, though Sanger ISD reported they were acting on the inquiry.

The final speaker, Lenry Van Zyl, delivered his remarks wearing a plastic rainbow mask covering his full face.

“If you prefer, I’ll wear my mask?” Van Zyl said said. “That’s what you guys have looked like the last two years. [You] look like clowns.”

He congratulated the winners of the school board elections last weekend.

“Elections have consequences,” he said. “Shout out to my girl Amy Bundgus for her victory. Shout out to Mia Price. I poll-greeted for you, great victory. Shout out to Paul Meltzer and Amber Briggle. I guess standing here at this podium, virtue-signaling with her girls — or boys — didn’t pan out.”

Meltzer, an outgoing City Council member, lost his bid for mayor of Denton, and Briggle was defeated in her race for Place 6 on the council. Briggle has two children attending Denton ISD schools, a daughter and a transgender son. She has not spoken during an open forum recently and has not run for the school board.

Van Zyl then read a passage aloud from Beyond Magenta, a book that collects the stories of six transgender teenagers. The passage described a narrator being harassed by a group of men for wearing girl’s clothing, and it included vulgar language and euphemisms for genitals as well as a reference to experimenting with sex.

“Yeah, feel uncomfortable yet?” Van Zyl said.

The district has a process for parents and residents in the district to request a review of books.

While conversations about appropriateness and obscenity continue, Briggle said Wednesday evening that LGBTQ representation in books — depictions of characters and their lives — isn’t harmful to children.

“Look, the majority of books that kids read in school are written by straight people, and many of those books include heterosexual content. Yet LGBTQ kids exist anyway,” she said. “It’s important to remember that books with LGBTQ themes won’t turn kids gay or trans. But it will make LGBTQ kids feel seen, celebrated and valid, and that matters because they matter.”

Fred Pole: 1932-2022
Fred Pole, former UNT administrator and Denton community leader, dies at 89

Former University of North Texas administrator Fred Pole was remembered by friends and family as a caring and hardworking person who served the Denton community in multiple ways.

Pole died on April 19. He was 89.

James Pole remembers his father being dedicated to his work but also recalls the times the family went on road trips.

“We would go on camping trips or any kind of outing and he definitely liked jokes, and liked to have fun and go to ballgames,” James Pole said. “We went on a few road trips; he piled all the kids back in the station wagon, and those are great memories when I was really young.”

Fred Pole was an active figure in the Denton community, having served as chair of the Denton Chamber of Commerce board, on the boards of the United Way of Denton County and Denton Community Hospital, and on the advisory board of the Denton YMCA.

“He was just a very organized person,” his son said. “He was a motivator, and he definitely liked being involved in the community.”

Pole was involved with the UNT administration for over 22 years, working as the vice president and the vice chancellor.

According to the North Texan, Pole served as the executive assistant to the president in 1980. He was named vice president for external affairs in 1981 and vice president for administrative affairs in 1982. The UNT Board of Regents appointed him vice chancellor for administration in 1999 before he retired in 2002.

Ellen Painter, who is involved with the United Way and with Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton (formerly Denton Community Hospital) said she was heartbroken to hear about Pole’s passing. Painter said she remembers Pole as a person who would always make sure to thank her for events she was involved in. She recalled he always made sure to interact with everyone in the room.

“He was the epitome of a perfect gentleman,” Painter said. “He was such a gracious man. So caring — he always went out of his way to make sure that the employees he interacted with felt good. He always just was the type of person that reached out to people.”

Chuck Carpenter, former chamber president, said he remembers the days when he and Fred were involved in large projects for the community.

He said Pole for being instrumental in securing facilities for UNT and for being involved in the Denton business community.

“He was very adamant about the university’s relationship in partnership with the local business community. … He was a very visible and very proud, very dominant face of the chamber for several years,” Carpenter said.

Pole served in the military before becoming a leader in the Denton community. He was drafted as a teenager to serve in the U.S. Army, and he ended up serving for 27 years. He commanded operations in the United States and overseas, including posts in Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

He was chief of the General Officers Branch at the Pentagon, and adjutant general at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

He later became a member of the Denton’s Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 920.

Frederick R. Pole was born Nov. 16, 1932, to Alma Ray and Verdis White Pole in rural Childress County. He married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Jean Campbell, on Feb. 15, 1951. Barbara Pole died in 2020.

His survivors include his son, James; one daughter, Deborah Griffith; four sisters, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The family will receive visitors from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, May 16, at Mulkey-Bowles-Montgomery Funeral Home. A memorial service celebrating the lives of Fred and Barbara Pole will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 17, at Southmont Baptist Church, followed by the placement of their remains at Roselawn Memorial Park.