The results from the earliest town elections in the South Coast, including Dartmouth and Fairhaven, show that wedge issues like removing books from libraries have been important to voters in school committee races, though none of the candidates supporting that cause have yet prevailed.

For the Dartmouth School Committee — the only contested election in that town — two candidates who stressed the importance of diversity and inclusion won the open seats. Kathleen Amaral prevailed into her third term and will be joined by newcomer Elizabeth “Bess” Coughlin; they beat out Lynne Turner, Erica Morency and Troy Tufano.


Removing books has been particularly worrisome to the librarian at Dartmouth Middle, Laura Gardner, who was also defeated in Monday’s Fairhaven School Committee race.

“It’s been pretty frustrating to see this become an issue, particularly in the town where I teach,” Gardner said. In particular, discourse in the Dartmouth election made her “fear for access to books in my own library,” which she said is “hitting a little too close to home.”

Gardner, a first-time candidate, decided to run in Fairhaven in part because of a different issue with libraries: namely, there are none in most Fairhaven schools. Since 2013 there has been no librarian at Fairhaven’s only middle school, and for the last two years there has been no replacement for the librarian who retired at the high school.

Gardner finished third behind Brian Monroe and Stephanie Pickup in Fairhaven’s race, which on Monday was the first election among the South Coast towns. Monroe won another term after having served for more than a decade on the school board, while Pickup secured the most votes en route to her first public office. 

Unlike in Dartmouth, no Fairhaven candidates came out directly to support book removals from school libraries, but the overall campaign could not escape national conversations plaguing school committees. At the town’s ‘Meet the Candidates’ night, the prospective committee members responded to four questions from a moderator. The first three of these were based on “culture clash” issues over which the School Committee has no jurisdiction.

Dartmouth School Committee candidate Troy Tufano visited all nine polling places on Tuesday, but ended up falling short of winning either of the open seats. Credit: Colin Hogan / The New Bedford Light

These were: first, did the candidates support Critical Race Theory, the legal concept not taught in K-12 education; second, would candidates push back against a theoretical state mandate for COVID vaccinations; and third, what were candidate’s positions on anti-LGBTQ bills around the country and related attempts at book bans. Most of the candidates tried to answer the questions while addressing that they were not the role of school committees, but one candidate, Brendalee Smith, did criticize Critical Race Theory and say it should not be added to the curriculum. (Lee would finish last in the election.)

Though seemingly irrelevant to issues of teacher salary and retention or overall budget woes — which Fairhaven and Dartmouth school committees must contend with imminently — many of these questions were on voter’s minds at the polling places.

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“School committees are a hot topic for a lot of people right now,” said Janine Simmons outside Dartmouth’s Southworth Library on Tuesday, a polling place. Simmons was sticking around to hold a sign for Lynne Turner, the Dartmouth candidate who spoke openly about removing books from libraries should parents not agree with their content. 

Simmons serves as president of the Dartmouth Republican Town Committee, and said she welcomed Turner to speak at meetings where her members were compelled by Turner’s campaign for “transparency” over the books and curriculum that educators use. However, Gardner, the librarian, said there is full transparency and even active advertisement of new titles, ongoing reading campaigns, and even access to the library’s online catalog. 

Outside another polling place, Renee Viera, the co-president of Dartmouth’s teachers union, said she was concerned about some of the same issues. Viera said she would work with whichever candidates prevailed, saying “hopefully we’re all on the same side to educate children.” As for school committee members meddling with the approved curriculum: “We will stand up for teacher’s autonomy,” she said. “We still hold the licenses.”

These debates are seizing on the national energy and discord over book bans. A report from The Light showed that conservative and Christian groups were organizing and supporting candidates who backed book bans as part of an effort to drive turnout, especially in the tri-town’s Old Rochester Regional (ORR), where book bans have been a heated issue for months. 

That race, as well as for the individual towns’ school committees (Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester have committees that oversee their elementary schools, while ORR oversees the joint high school and junior high), will take place in May. 

And while school libraries are in the spotlight, Gardner said she hopes the South Coast community realizes the importance that they play for students. “School librarians do lead to student achievement,” she said. “I’ve worked with so many kids that didn’t like reading, but they became an avid reader and just took off academically.”

A pattern of research demonstrates that students who have regular access to a library become stronger readers and perform better in school. And in Fairhaven, where there is none, 10th grade ELA scores have dipped below the state average, the only category in which that district didn’t beat out the state.

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  1. I’m amazed at the lengths that some parents will go to to not parent their children.
    Instead of attempting to ban everything and everyone that they disagree with, perhaps these conservative parents could actually tell their kids not to read those books, avoid all the diverse people, and plug their ears when the health teacher talks about all different kinds of families.
    You know, actually be a parent and stop asking school districts to change their curriculum so they can raise your kids for you.

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