Great Barrington teacher files suit over search for ‘Gender Queer’

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In December, an officer reported to the school as part of a criminal investigation over a copy of “Gender Queer” in her classroom, which he ultimately did not find.

“Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

A Great Barrington middle school teacher filed a complaint in federal court Tuesday after a plainclothes police officer searched her classroom for an LGBTQ+ memoir.

Arantzazú Zuzene Galdós-Shapiro is a queer, Mexican-American English Language Arts teacher at Du Bois Regional Middle School in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. Since the search, Galdós-Shapiro has been on an extended leave from teaching.

In December, Officer Joseph O’Brien reported to the school as part of a criminal investigation to search for a copy of “Gender Queer” in her classroom, which he ultimately did not find.

“Gender Queer” is one of the most banned books by schools in the country. In the award-winning graphic memoir by a nonbinary author, two characters are illustrated in the book engaging in oral sex.

“Had they conducted this research, through even a simple Google search, prior to Officer O’Brien’s unlawful interrogation of Ms. Galdós-Shapiro, that search would have provided them with immediate proof of the literary and artistic content and value of the book, as well as the many districts that had already assessed the book and decided not to ban it,” the complaint said.

Police kept janitor’s identity anonymous amid investigation

A “disgruntled” janitor at the school told to the Great Barrington police that Galdós-Shapiro was allegedly disseminating pornographic materials, allowed students to sit on her lap, and told students not to tell their parents about “LGBTQ material,” the complaint said.

The police chose to anonymize the identity of the janitor, who had been disciplined previously by the school for making homophobic and racist comments, the complaint said. He was suspended for two days after he “berated” another female Hispanic teacher.

And, according to district policies in the exhibits of the complaint, anonymous complaints against district employees should be disregarded.

“Worse, his allegations were inherently implausible,” the complaint said. “He did not and could not explain how as a janitor who worked evenings he would even have had an opportunity to observe and/or hear Ms. Galdós-Shapiro and her students in her classroom during school hours.”

According to the complaint, Galdós-Shapiro was loved as a teacher by her students and colleagues. She was specifically selected by Superintendent Peter Dillon, who was named as a defendant in the suit, to serve on a principal search committee last year.

Galdós-Shapiro also was the advisor for a chapter of the national organization Gender and Sexuality Alliance at the middle school, which is a paid position. “Gender Queer” was housed in her classroom with books related to the GSA.

Students were required to check out the book from Galdós-Shapiro, and only one student had done so, the complaint said.

After the classroom search, Dillon reached out to the Berkshire County District Attorney and “clarified” that the anonymous report should have been handled internally.

Galdós-Shapiro called for an independent investigation in January, when police were still not identifying the janitor as the complainant. At the time, Great Barrington Police Chief Paul Storti said “they are known and identified by us.”

“Weeks went by during which Ms. Galdós-Shapiro had no way of knowing who the individual was who had access to her classroom, her students, and herself, and what actions they might take against her next,” the complaint said.

The complaint names Town of Great Barrington, the district, Dillon, Storti, and O’Brien as defendants. Galdós-Shapiro alleges that her First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated.

The complaint alleges that in various communications to the public, Dillon and Storti did not clarify that a criminal investigation had been dismissed and made it seem Galdós-Shapiro gave inappropriate material to students.

Galdós-Shapiro still has not returned to the classroom.

“Defendants’ decision to publish the baseless, false, and defamatory allegations against Ms. Galdós-Shapiro — including the allegation that she was, essentially, a pedophile—left her devastated and profoundly shaken, ill, distressed, and fearful, her reputation publicly destroyed,” the complaint said.

A message to Storti was not returned Wednesday night, and Dillon is out of office through May 28 due to surgery.

The full complaint is available here.

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