Clipper Staff Writer
FARMINGTON — Sensitivities are heightened regarding books in school libraries after a suit over a book in an elementary school library cost the district $15,000 to settle last year.
A presentation by district staff on media center policy turned into a lengthy discussion over whether parents or teachers should decide what books libraries should carry, what should be done with donated books and what books can be weeded out of libraries.
Peter Cannon, a board member, spoke repeatedly in support of bringing parents into the equation at all levels of the discussion, as opposed to those he called “employees.”
Others defended teachers and librarians as being an important and invested part of the decision-making process.
“Teachers are very concerned,” said Kathie Bone, also a board member. “I wouldn’t label it one way or another. They’re very concerned about what their students read in school.”
Media specialists know the needs of students as well, said Belinda Kuck, assistant director of curriculum and instruction in the district.
“We value and want the input of parents,” said Kuck, after pointing out there are 70,000 new titles in district libraries this year, not including duplicates, “but our librarians know every single student in every school. They know all the varied and diverse interests of students at the school and the school community and they can make very, very wise decisions,” said Kuck.
The book that spawned the controversy last year was “In Our Mothers’ House,” by Patricia Polacco.
According to Kuck, it was purchased by three elementary libraries. In two cases, it was purchased because the schools have children in households with two mothers, similar to the story in the book.
Several board members indicated their support for the book’s inclusion in school libraries. The book had been put behind the counter in one school due to parent complaints. As a result of the suit, the books are still on library shelves, but parents can sign a form requesting that their child not check it out.
The library policy outlines guidelines for media specialists to select books, accept donated books and weed out books no longer pertinent.
The criteria for books includes timeliness, reliability, accuracy, their relationship to curriculum, the maturity level and recreational needs of students and “linguistic pluralism” for students learning second languages.
Board members asked to add “quality,” to the list of criteria.
In answer to a question by board member David Lovato, board members were told books can’t be edited due to copyright issues.
Lovato pointed out that “James and the Giant Peach,” has a disparaging reference to Hispanics.
Cannon wanted to ensure that books on morals and principles founded in the U.S. Constitution were also included in libraries.
Librarians in the district receive hundreds of requests each year from parents, regarding books they don’t want their children to read, often because the books are scary and will cause nightmares, said Kuck.
“Parents have always done that, it’s not only their privilege but their obligation to do so,” she said.
At the same time, parents cannot make decisions on books for all students, said Michelle Beus, legal issues specialist for the district.
Balanced views must be represented in a library, said Kuck, especially in older grades where students must do argumentative writing or explore opposing viewpoints.
In the policy outlined, donated books can be accepted if they’re in good condition, if they are not outdated reference material or reflect outdated stereotypes and if they’re at the proper age level, among other guidelines.
Books can be weeded out of libraries if they meet the above criteria or have received little use.
If parents want to do more than request a book not be checked out to their own children, books can be challenged first at the school level before an evaluation committee, then, if desired, before a district-level challenge committee.