Individuals who wish to challenge a book or article that they believe are inappropriate in the Hempfield Area School District would have more means to do so under a policy proposed by the school board.
Council members who serve on the district’s policy committee last week dove into a proposal that would change the way disputed documents are reviewed, continuing a months-long conversation that began after some parents challenged two books available for secondary school students.
Key proposed changes include adjusting the membership of committees that review disputed documents and adding an appeals process.
“I think we worked hard to provide (another) stage, because we had two stages and now we have three,” said director Jeanne Smith. “We put it on, and basically we put it on because people weren’t happy with the decision from step one.”
The conversation started after some parents quizzed George M. Johnson’s “Not All Boys Are Blue” this spring, which chronicles Johnson’s journey as a queer black boy. The parents also interviewed Frederick Joseph’s “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person”, which reflects the author’s experiences with racism.
A formal complaint was filed against the books, both of which went through the review process set out in the policy.
This means that a committee – consisting of the school librarian, the head of the library department, a teacher selected based on the content of the book, a parent, a student, the complainant, the assistant superintendent and the superintendent – reads the books, then encounters and examines each text using a series of questions drawn from the policy.
It was ultimately determined that the books could remain available to students.
Despite this determination, some parents have continued to push for change while suggesting that these books are not suitable for students.
This led to board members having deeper discussions about the policy and what changes they would like to see.
A draft of the proposed changes outlines the new review process, while noting that the policy “will review challenges based on whether the challenged material is inappropriate for a level of student likely to access it due to explicit sexual content, graphic violence, hate speech or mature topics inappropriate for younger students. »
The language notes, however, that the district follows all state, local and federal rules regarding discrimination, which means that if a complaint violates these laws, it will be dismissed.
According to the draft, during an informal challenge, the complainant would be invited to a meeting within five days of filing the complaint. They would be asked to detail their objections and explain why they feel the material is inappropriate.
The building superintendent, librarian, teacher, or other staff member would then explain the district’s selection process as well as the value of the materials in the educational program.
If the complainant is not satisfied after this meeting, they can file a formal complaint, which will be referred to a school-level review committee.
This committee, selected for “diversity of opinion and relevant expertise” by the building manager, would meet within 20 school days of receiving the complaint, the draft says.
It would consist of at least one librarian, a teacher in the relevant subject if the disputed material is educational, at least one school or district administrator, community members, and parents who are not employed by the district. , the plaintiff and a student if the application is made at the secondary level.
Parents and community members would be safe from work-related pressures, would not face professional reprisals if administrators disagreed with the committee’s decision, and “may therefore be less susceptible to internal pressures.” and prejudices. It is essential that the voices of the parents/community do not outweigh those of the trained educators. »
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During the review process, the committee will read or view the material in its entirety while using the policy as a guide to determine the professional acceptance of the material. They also “weighed values and flaws and formed opinions based on the material as a whole rather than passages or selections taken out of context.”
After 30 days of meeting, the committee will summarize its findings and submit them to the Superintendent.
If the complainant is still not satisfied with the outcome, they can submit a request for appeal within 10 days.
A second committee would then meet to evaluate the material and determine if it meets the selection criteria set out in school policy and is appropriate for the educational use for which it is intended.
According to the draft policy, the appeal committee will consist of a principal, a teacher, a librarian, an assistant superintendent, a school counselor or a psychologist, a principal of department or subject area supervisor, two parents, two committee members, and one high school student.
The committee will be asked to perform several tasks, including reading reviews that are reputable and prepared by hardware professionals; read all materials provided, including the full text of the material and all relevant critical reviews; and hear the thoughts, questions and contributions of all members.
They will be asked to set aside “personal beliefs and evaluate material against the objective standards outlined in the library’s material collection procedures”, not to take passages or parts of the text out of their context and to make their recommendation based on the suitability of the material for the educational purposes for which it is intended.
Decisions made by the appeal committee will be binding on all schools in the district. Any material that is challenged cannot be challenged again for three school years.
Committee members discussed the changes, sometimes disagreeing on the best way to proceed.
Principals Jennifer Bretz and Tony Bompiani suggested following a policy similar to that used for Chromebooks.
“If something isn’t good, why would we have it in there in the first place?” Bretz said. “On a Chromebook, kids can’t access sexually explicit material, and then we leave it in our library. We need shelter. Our responsibility is education. It’s teaching reading, it’s teaching math is teaching history is teaching science.
Principal Diane Ciabattoni suggested that today’s students live in a different reality.
“Sometimes these books that maybe I don’t like have things that they live through,” Ciabattoni said.
Smith added that they prepare children for life in the world, not just in western Pennsylvania.
“We don’t want to limit ourselves to western Pennsylvania and say, ‘You’ll be fine here, but if you go to a city, you’ll probably be out of your depth because we’ve reduced all your reading material,’ “said Smith. “That’s why we have a library with intellectual freedom where children can go and choose a book they want to read something about. We are not giving this book to everyone.
Committee members will continue the discussion at the next school board meeting at 7 p.m. on October 17 at the administration building adjacent to the high school.