BOE Makes Strides Discussing New Library Materials Policy
The Board of Education discussed a new policy in the works concerning selection of library media resources during their September 19 meeting.
The policy was drafted by the policy committee, and is pages longer than the existing guidelines to be retired — Policy 8-302, last revised in 1996.
Policy 6163.1 includes more detail in areas such as criteria for media selection, including evaluating age appropriateness, and procedures for reconsideration of materials.
Preceding discussion of this document was a section of public participation during which two district library media specialists spoke with concern about the draft, with similar messages.
Suzanne Hurley from Middle Gate School said she does not believe the new policy corrects any of the old policy’s perceived flaws, and “fails to uphold the existing board policy of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and lacks transparency.”
Hurley said community members who want a book removed should have read the book and publicly explain their reasoning.
Sarah Wasley from Reed Intermediate School asked the board to “consider slowing down the process” of creating the new policy, and echoed Hurley that objectors should read a book they are asking to be reconsidered. She also asked the process of reconsideration be transparent to the community.
The transparency issue was discussed by the board during the meeting. Ultimately, in a unanimous decision, the board voted that a list of the books under review with their rationale for reconsideration should be publicly accessible.
In contrast to meetings during book challenges during the 2022-2023 school year, board dynamics on September 19 appeared to be constructive and amicable.
Not only did board members vote alike on the issue, but overall, board members seemed motivated to listen and engage over each other’s ideas during discussion.
An item concerning process transparency was among several receiving unanimous endorsement as it was moved back to committee, and slated for discussion at the next policy committee meeting scheduled for September 27.
Another item receiving unanimous support for further discussion was the idea that if a book is reconsidered, a time period should follow where it cannot be requested to be examined again.
Even the use of the word “promote” in the original policy text was returned to be reexamined by the policy committee, and was supported unanimously.
The word is used in the section of the policy outlining the goals for selection criteria: “to provide a diverse global perspective and promote diversity” and “to promote critical thinking and a love of lifelong learning.
Concern about the word was brought up by Chair Deborra Zukowski.
“Is it the job of library media specialists to promote particular topics?” she said, referring to selection criteria referencing promoting diversity.
Zukowski said it seems there are no other items for the library media specialist to advocate for in the text, giving examples such as civic responsibility, a love of reading, and reducing substance abuse.
“By calling out one item, it seems like there are no other items,” said Zukowski, adding she is “all for” diversity, equity and inclusion, and her problem is with the word “promote” specifically.
“The word ‘promote’ is important to library media specialists because of the work they were asked to do in the library to increase the representation of people in our libraries,” said Assistant Superintendent Anne Uberti in response.
“They’re promoting inclusion in our libraries by making sure that they are representing different perspectives, different people and materials by authors and illustrators that are underrepresented in our libraries,” she continued. “So, from an underrepresentation standpoint, I think they view it as a promotion in their collection … they’re not promoting what anyone should read, they’re promoting the diversity of their collections.”
On another topic, the board unanimously agreed the use of the word “community” in the policy, saying it should be discussed in the future with consideration because its definition may be “too broad.”
During the policy review, some board members discussed that those who may initiate the book challenge process should include those who are directly involved with the school district in some way, such as parents.
Board member Donald Ramsey said he was “ambiguous” regarding the idea, because of grandparents and others who “truly have the best interest of children in mind,” but that he would defer to the board on the issue.
During the second public participation, Newtown resident Jennifer Nicoletti cautioned board members against narrowing this definition of “community.”
The only item on the list that failed to receive unanimous support was to discuss if there is a role for the board in the event a petitioner is dissatisfied with the superintendent. It received a single vote by Ramsey.
“I think this was a very, very useful exercise,” said Zukowksi about the overall policy discussion. “It was good to know that we’re all in agreement to a large degree.”
After her comment, Zukowski encouraged board members to send any concerns about the “sensitive issues” listed in the section regarding evaluating age appropriateness to Uberti.
According to Zukowski, “concerns” about these issues, including “graphic and/or excessive violence, explicit sexual content, excessive use of expletives, or hate speech” will also be discussed at the upcoming policy committee meeting September 27.
Reporter Noelle Veillette can be reached at email@example.com.