After months of discussions, it’s back to the drawing board for the book policy committee in the Hempfield Area School District.
The battle over which titles should be on school library shelves and what process could be used to deal with materials that are questioned because of graphic violence or sexual content will once again be debated by a school board.
The board’s policy committee, including four board members, was unable to reach an agreement last week on a proposed policy for a book challenge. That will be discussed again at the Nov. 21 school board meeting. The school board already has policies in place for the selection of resource material for the libraries and the review of teaching material by students and parents.
The board has faced challenges for months from parents who say some books are inappropriate for students and should be removed from the high school library. A small group of parents challenged two books this spring: “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” about growing up as a queer black boy, and “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person,” which reflects author Frederick Joseph’s experiences with racism . The books went through the review process and were not removed.
Principal Dianne Ciabattoni opposed a proposed third level of the review process, which would add the option to appeal a review board decision. She favors the two-step process that establishes an informal review, then a formal review, without appeal.
“No one is happy with three steps. I think three steps is too much,” Ciabattoni said.
Principal Tony Bompiani, board president, said the current book review process is not working. As an example, he pointed to the book “All Boys Aren’t Blue” for its graphic sexual content.
“We’ve had books off the radar. There’s something missing (in the process),” Bompiani said.
Support a policy for library books that are not related to the curriculum.
“Extreme sexual content should not be allowed,” Bompiani said.
Principal Jennifer Bretz agrees with Bompiani.
“We have to have faith in our parents. ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ – upset everyone,” Bretz said.
Principal Jeanne Smith said there are separate policies for library books and curriculum materials. Those who object can choose not to use that source, Smith said. Library books can broaden students’ perspectives, exposing them to different cultures and lifestyles, she said.
Krisha DiMascio, the district’s attorney, said the big problem is in purchasing books, but it’s not realistic to know what’s in every book that’s selected for libraries.
Books are chosen for purchase based on several factors, including how they support the curriculum, said Beth McGuire, the Wendover Middle School librarian and the district’s library president. McGuire also said he relies on professional book reviews from organizations such as the American Library Association and the School Library Journal.
“I have no confidence in the ALA,” Bompiani said.
Superintendent Tammy Wolicki said she was concerned about a process that would allow a person to remove a book.
“Who makes the decision of what’s sexually explicit? It still has to be one person’s judgment … someone’s opinion,” Wolicki said.