The Arizona Department of Education used COVID relief money to fund a private campaign that helped integrate LGBTQ books into a school classroom.
McClintock High School English teacher Carly Blodgett launched an online campaign in March to fund a classroom library on DonorsChoose, a classroom funding site for teachers. The teacher’s campaign was called “Learning to Love Reading Again” and aimed to “build a classroom environment that encourages choice, creativity, and above all, a love for reading.” Multiple books included on her shopping list explore sexual themes.
The Arizona Department of Education and Superintendent Kathy Hoffman funded in full on March 20 the costs of Ms. Blodgett’s diversity library, which includes LGBTQ young-adult novels such as The Girls I’ve Been, You Should See Me In A Crown, Beauty Queens, and more.
In a statement on the online forum DonorChoose, the Arizona Department of Education said: “We are proud to champion the efforts of teachers as we rebuild and recover from the pandemic. From Superintendent Kathy Hoffman and ADE staff we hope this investment emphasizes our appreciation of your tireless work for Arizona’s students. It is our honor to support you in this way as you give so much of your time and talent to the students of our state.”
The grant is part of an Arizona DOE initiative that distributes the state’s allotted $14 million in federal COVID-19 relief to fund classroom initiatives. According to the DOE, as of March 21, the department had spent all the funds.
To qualify, teachers must write an essay that explains “how the resources you’re requesting will help your students through pandemic-impacted learning” and create a DonorChoose account. Applicants must be Arizona public school Pre-K to 12th grade educators and projects cannot exceed $1000. Requested resources must “support students’ social, emotional, and mental well-being as well as the impacts of interrupted learning as a result of COVID-19.”
One of the grants went to Blodgett, who teaches grades 9-12 in Tempe. The teacher added The Girls I’ve Been, a young adult LGBTQ+ romance novel to her reading list that references sexual assault and rape. Another novel, The Other Side of Perfect, depicts a gay relationship and queer secondary characters. Another, These Violent Delights, lauds a main character who is transgender and queer supporting characters. It also includes “blood, violence, gore, character deaths, explicit description of gouging self (not of their own volition), murder, weapon use, insects, alcohol consumption, [and] parental abuse.” Multiple other novels on the list also contain sexual themes.
Blodgett said she was thankful for the Arizona DOE’s donation: “Thank you so much for funding this project! I know having these wonderful books in my classroom will open up a world of opportunity for my students. I am truly thankful for your generosity and support in helping me reignite a passion for reading among my high school students once again.”
Arizona parents began pushing for more transparency in school libraries after a Phoenix high school teacher last year assigned students a graphic book that referenced violent sexual acts and bestiality. The Arizona Senate in May passed a bill to expand parental oversight on reading materials and require public review of school library books. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill into law in April.
It is unclear if the measure prohibits the DOE from funding reading initiatives, such as Blodgett’s, without public review.