BETHEL — “We have a formal book challenge,” said MSAD 44 Superintendent Mark Kenney at their school board meeting on Nov. 6 at Telstar.

The book being challenged is, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,”  and is currently on loan at the Telstar Middle/High School Library.

Kenney said a committee made up of an administrator, the school librarian, a teacher, a community member, and the English department chair have been assigned to review the policy and the book.

At the next school board meeting on Mon., Dec. 18, the committee will make a recommendation and the school board will vote, however, according to the policy can choose to wait to the following meeting to decide.

The book challenge falls under MSAD-44 School Board policy IJJ which is the Instructional and Library-Media Materials Selection Policy. “The review committee shall: read and examine the materials referred to them; check general acceptance of materials by reading reviews; weigh values and faults against each other and form opinions based on the material as a whole and not on passages or portions pulled out of context; meet to discuss the  material and to prepare a written report on it.”

Kenney said the book is not especially popular at Telstar, having been checked out only 10 times in 10 years.


According to a Maine Monitor story written in August of this year, while 22 complaints have been filed in Maine, only one Maine district has removed a book after a formal, written complaint.  Gender Queer, was removed in response to three separate challenges in the RSU 56 district in Dixfield. However, books are sometimes removed before the formal complaint stage, too.

States across the U.S. have received increased challenges. According to the American Library Association (ALA), “Between January 1 and August 31, 2023, OIF [Office for Intellectual Freedom] reported 695 attempts to censor library materials and services and documented challenges to 1,915 unique titles – a 20% increase from the same reporting period in 2022, which saw the highest number of book challenges since ALA began compiling the data more than 20 years ago. The vast majority of challenges were to books written by or about a person of color or a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

ALA ranks, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” by Jesse Andrews in the top 13 most challenged books of 2022. The ALA literature says the reasons are because the book, “is claimed to be sexual explicit and profanity.”

Goodreads reviewers wrote varied assessments, readers described the book as: snarky, honest, sweet, and odd. The book was turned into a film in 2015.

The SAD-44 policy states, “The Board recognizes that the final authority for what materials an individual student will be exposed to rests with that student’s parents or legal guardians. However, at no time will the wishes of one child’s parents to restrict his or her reading or viewing of a particular item infringe on other parents rights to permit their children to read or view the same material.”



Mark Kenney spoke at length about the Lewiston shooting aftermath response.  “Just want you all to be aware of the collaboration that took place through that whole process … at the last meeting there were 38 of us on Zoom trying to make sure we got the same message out … It was really beneficial, selfishly, going through this, to have that resource.”

“They did an amazing job,” said Kenney of his staff. “The goal was to get everybody back and make this as normal as possible … We were not going to allow a lot of side conversation or misinformation in school … The goal is trying to give everyone that protective bubble that school is.”

Kenney said at an MSMA conference in Augusta, artificial intelligence (AI) was the focus. “Remarkable presentation on AI. How can schools embrace AI and not fight it?…  the top six careers of the last three years are not going to be there. AI is going to take over. We need to make sure we preparing our kids for careers and futures that are going to be there,” he said.

Kenney said Region 9 Director David Murphy received another grant of $20,000 for the new day care under contract, with a total of $125,000

Other business

Board Member Amy Henley reported on the Facilities, Policy and Personnel Committee. They met on Oct. 2 voting to opt with a wireless PA system to replace the failing current, wired system. Vape detectors have arrived and have been installed in the middle school bathroom, said Henley.


The bid for snow plowing was accepted. Cross Excavation had submitted the only bid. Last year the board budgeted $25,00 and spent $51,000. The contractor moves 80-85% of the snow, said Kenney. The school staff does walkways, etc.

The Board gave permission to Cooley, the board chair, and Kenney to  apply to the Maine Department of Education for a waiver for Thursday, Oct. 26. The waiver would reduce the student day count from 175 to 174. It will remove the day from the calendar, said Kenney. “If we do this process we will get all five of our snow days back. (They used two snow days following the Lewiston shooting). “For me its very unsettling to use two days up in October,” said Kenney.

David Jones was appointed to fill the Region 9 board representative position vacated by the recent resignation of Roberta Taylor.

The next school board meeting is Mon., Dec. 18 at Telstar Library. 

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