Holmen School Board keeps ‘It’s Perfectly Normal’ on middle school shelves after appeal for removal

HOLMEN, Wis. (WKBT) — The Holmen School Board voted last night to keep “It’s Perfectly Normal,” a book for kids about puberty and sexual health, on its middle school’s shelves after an appeal to have it removed.

The book, made for kids 10 and older, contains chapters on sexual health, sexuality and gender; illustrated with cartoons depicting human anatomy. Author Robie Harris, alongside illustrator Michael Emberley, published its first edition in 1994.

“They want to know how they were made at a very young age, you know. ‘How did I get here?'” Harris said.

But some parents, led by area mom Mary Kulmacezewski, argue its sexual content is inappropriate for the kids at Holmen Middle School. This is the first time the book was challenged at Holmen.

“There are also some topics, I feel, that are far too mature for 6th graders, especially, to handle,” Kulmacezewski said, noting the book’s pages on abortion in particular.

Cheryl Hancock, the school board’s president, said the school board’s vote was based on inclusivity, and the book was acceptable for the middle school.

“It’s important that we have an open mind and allow students who might see things differently access to materials that have been deemed appropriate for their age group,” Hancock said.

The book has lived in the Holmen Middle School library for 13 years and checked out only 18 times.

Kulmacezewski worries that the book, with its content and detailed illustrations, could fall into the wrong hands.

“Once it can be seen, it can never be unseen. Once the damage is done– there’s extensive research done on the damage of these images on the immature brain of a child.” Kulmacezewski said.

Author Harris, who has faced many challenges to her work over the years, feels having a book like this available to kids is necessary. It is updated frequently, with its most recent update in early 2021.

Harris says though she understands that her book isn’t for everyone, it can serve as an important resource for those who need it.

“It just respects their right to know about their bodies,” Harris said.

Earlier this year, Kulmacezewski’s first appeal to committee was met with a 6-0 vote to keep it on the shelves. On Monday, she appealed to the board again.

“I needed to do everything I could. There was one last shot, and that was the appeal,” Kulmacezewski said.

Several members of the Holmen community spoke at Monday’s school board meeting, both in favor for and against.

One solution proposed was to keep the book kept aside just for those students who ask for it, but others worried that would keep kids who need it most in the dark.

“If you had a student struggling, it would be very unlikely that they would go to someone and ask for that book because it would call attention to the fact that they are looking at that book,” Hancock said.

The library already allows parents to restrict their own child from certain materials, something several who spoke felt was enough.

In the end, the board voted to keep it on the shelves. Though Kulmacezewski is unable to appeal again, she hopes her advocacy speaks for other parents in the area.

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