WARREN, NJ - One year ago, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a 2006 graphic memoir by the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, was the source of controversy at Watchung Hills Regional High School. Now a lawsuit has been filed against the Watchung Hills Board of Education, the Board President, the Superintendent, Principal, Director of Curriculum, Supervisor Of English, and an English teacher. The suit was filed on May 3, 2019.
The suit asked for immediate removal of the book from Watchung Hills, “to.enjoin the defendants from facilitating, distributing or in any way permitting Fun Home from appearing or being any part of the curriculum at Watchung Hills.” The suit says the Plaintiffs “fear if the defendants are not enjoined minors will suffer irreparable harm and that New Jersey statutes will be violated.”
The judge, Margaret Goodzeit, denied immediate relief.
She said,” if the Plaintiffs were so concerned about the contents of Fun Home, this application could have been brought months- if not a year sooner.”
Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education President and defendant Peter Fallon said “Plaintiffs’ decision to address only one of the two elements necessary to find a violation of the criminal code section N.J.S.A.2C:34-3 demonstrates the frivolous nature of plaintiffs’ claim.” He went on to say “If the plaintiffs were seriously seeking relief in this lawsuit, rather than just publicity for their opposition to the book, they would have addressed both elements of N.J.S.A.2C:34-3 in their papers. It is a shame that tax-payer money will have to be spent to defend such a baseless lawsuit. Money that will have to be spent to defend this lawsuit is money that will not be available to spend on educating the children of the Watchung Hills Regional High School district.” For more, continue below and see photos above
Going forward, the school has to appear again on June 5 to defend its position. The matter has been referred to our insurance carrier to defend the board, Fallon said on Tuesday.
After the controversy last spring, the Watchung Hills Board of Education revised the 12th grade English Curriculum for the 2018-19 school year. The changes were outlined at an October meeting and shared with parents at Back to School Night.
“Fun Home, A Family Tragicomic” by Allison Bechtel, “We Are Okay” by Nina LaCour, and “Speak No Evil” by Uzodinma Iweala were approved by the Watchung Hills Board of Education as the three options in the senior English unit on LGBTQ literature. Seniors have the option to choose two of the three books and to read one of the two they choose.
Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett explained that the curriculum was expanded last year to include a broad range of literature to reach all students, not just works that portray traditional gender and sexual identities. She said that the expansion of the English curriculum is in alignment with the Strategic Plan and is the result of a two year research process which included professional development for the English department staff.
The book Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, is a last in a series of graphic novels read throughout the four years at Watchung Hills.
The book chronicles the author's childhood and addresses themes of sexual orientation, gender roles, suicide, emotional abuse, dysfunctional family life, and the role of literature in understanding self and family.
Fun Home has won critical acclaim, spending two weeks on the New York Times best seller list. Fun Home was named as one of the best books of 2006 and was nominated for several awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award and three Eisner Awards. Fun Home was adapted as a musical and won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2015. The musical has been performed by high school students. Oakland School for the Arts in California took the stage for an a cappella version of “Ring of Keys.” http://www.playbill.com/article/watch-high-school-students-perform-moving-cover-of-ring-of-keys A message from the Curran theater says that “Ring of Keys” from the musical “beautifully empowers youth with a message of #hope, #love and #perseverance.
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has written on the controversy at Watchung Hills.
For more see
Fallon’s entire statement:
The Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education and its Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jewett, Board President Peter B. Fallon, Watchung Hills Regional High School Principal George Alexis, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Ellen Phelan, English Department Supervisor James Acquavia, and teacher Courtney Griffith have been sued by Daniel Gallic, his son Emmett Gallic, Doreen Blanchard-Gliebe and Tristan Goode in Somerset County Superior Court in an action entitled Gallic, et al. v. Watchung Hill Regional High School Board of Education, et al., Docket No. SOM-C-12032-19. Plaintiff Daniel Gallic is the Chairperson of the Warren Township Planning Board. Emmet Gallic was a senior last year at Watching Hills Regional High School. Plaintiff Doreen Blanchard-Gliebe is described in the Complaint as a resident of Green Brook. Plaintiff Tristan Good is described in the Complaint as a resident of Warren.
The lawsuit concerns the book Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic which is one of the texts that students can choose to read in their senior year. The lawsuit states that Plaintiff Emmett Gallic was required to read the book last year when he was a 17 year old senior at Watchung Hills Regional High School. In the lawsuit plaintiffs accuse the Board of Education and the other defendants of a crime. Specifically paragraph 6 of plaintiffs’ Verified Complaint alleges:
In providing minor children with this book, the Board is in clear, violation of New Jersey Revised Statutes Title 2C – the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice, Section 2C:34-3 entitled Obscenity for Persons under 18. “Obscene material” is defined as “any description, narrative account, display, depiction of a specified anatomical area or specified sexual activity contained in, or consisting of, a picture or representation . . . .” The book clearly depicts specified sexual activity” as defined in the statute because the book’s images show oral sex, masturbation, genitalia, etc. The Board is distributing the book to children under the age of 18 and the Statute provides that “a person who knowingly sells, distributes, rents or exhibits to a person under 18 years of age obscene material is guilty of a crime of the third degree.”
However, in both plaintiffs’ Verified Complaint and in the application they made to the Court for temporary restraints preliminarily enjoining the Board from continuing to utilize Fun Home, the plaintiffs cite and quote one part of N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3(1) while completing ignoring the rest of N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3(1). In full, N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3(1) provides:
“Obscene material” means any description, narrative account, display, depiction of a specified anatomical area or specified sexual activity contained in, or consisting of, a picture or other representation, publication, sound recording, live performance or film, which by means of posing, composition, format or animated sensual details, emits sensuality with sufficient impact to concentrate prurient interest on the area or activity.
The plaintiffs’ Verified Complaint contains no allegations that the images in the book either by means of posing, composition, format or animated sensual details “emits sensuality with sufficient impact to concentrate prurient interest on the area or activity.” Additionally, in the Report and Certification submitted by plaintiff’s expert, Judith Reisman, Ph.D. and director of the Reisman Institute at Liberty University School of Law, completely fail to address whether the images they complain about “emit sensuality with sufficient impact to concentrate prurient interest.”
Watchung Hills Regional High School Board of Education President and defendant Peter Fallon said “Plaintiffs’ decision to address only one of the two elements necessary to find a violation of the criminal code section N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3 demonstrates the frivolous nature of plaintiffs’ claim.” He went on to say “If the plaintiffs were seriously seeking relief in this lawsuit, rather than just publicity for their opposition to the book, they would have addressed both elements of N.J.S.A.2C:34-3 in their papers. It is a shame that tax-payer money will have to be spent to defend such a baseless lawsuit. Money that will have to be spent to defend this lawsuit is money that will not be available to spend on educating the children of the Watchung Hills Regional High School district.”
The lawsuit seeks entry of a judgment by the New Jersey Superior Court, Somerset County, Chancery Division declaring that the defendants have violated N.J.S.A. 2C:34-3. A decision as to whether defendants have violated the Criminal Code would normally be made in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court and it is not clear that the Chancery Division has the jurisdiction to make such a decision. The lawsuit also seeks an injunction to restrain the defendants from including the book as optional material in the 12th grade English curriculum.
The lawsuit and the plaintiffs’ request for a Preliminary Injunction with Temporary Restraints while the Court is deciding on plaintiffs’ Verified Complaint was filed on May 2, 2019. Judge Margaret Goodzeit, the Presiding Judge of the Chancery Division for Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, denied the plaintiffs’ application for Temporary Restraints on May 3, 2019. The Court has scheduled June 5, 2019 for oral argument on plaintiffs application for a preliminary injunction during the pendency of the lawsuit.
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