One of our biggest fights at the end of 2021 was the removal of three award winning books from the shelves of Downingtown High School West:
- All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir Manifesto by George M. Johnson
- Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
These three books were removed even though a formal request for re-evaluation of instructional resource materials was not received. Unfortunately, the existing Administrative Guideline (109-AG-3) was not followed.
Instead, Superintendent Lonardi utilized Policy 000, with Board approval, to remove the books. This policy states, “Exceptions to administrative guidelines shall be made at the discretion of the administration and subject to the approval of appropriate administrative staff.” While this tactic may be legal, it remains to be seen if it was ethical to deny students the right to access the books while policies and guidelines were re-evaluated.
Although these three books are now back on the shelves, this was the catalyst that led to a new proposed policy for the vetting, acquisition and labeling of new library books in DASD. Below is an annotated copy of the proposed policy followed by an analysis of the pros and cons and actions you can take to ensure that a variety of resources reflecting the diverse educational needs of the DASD student community are available in our public school libraries.
What does the new book policy look like?
This policy presents a thorough process which should result in rationales resistant to book challenges. Should books make it through this process, it is unlikely parents will be able to launch successful attempts at banning.
This policy may result in a significant addition to the workload of our media specialists. Will they receive appropriate compensation and support for the additional work? This is a potential labor issue.
The American Library Association (ALA) and the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) have issued a joint Position Statement on Labeling Practices for school libraries. According to the ALA, “cataloging decisions, labels, or ratings applied in an attempt to restrict or discourage access to materials or to suggest moral or doctrinal endorsement is a violation of the First Amendment and Library Bill of Rights.”
As a school system that prides itself on following best practices for the successful education of its students, DASD must consider this position statement when utilizing subject tags and labels for cataloging books. Subject and genre tags are already available from established sources such as The Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal System.
If DASD creates new or more restrictive labels it has the potential to:
- stigmatize historically marginalized groups
- narrow a book’s potential audience
- infringe on the learner’s privacy rights
The subjective nature of much of this policy leaves significant room for bias. This potential already exists in the selection of material, but is tempered by the professional education of our media specialists. Furthermore, silent censorship is real. Will our media specialists in Downingtown feel supported in obtaining new books or will they fear a cumbersome process when acquiring new resources with potential parental or administrative challenges to follow?
Where does this leave us?
Overall, the policy could work well, especially if the district ensures the involvement of the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Policy and Procedures Committee of the Cultural Equity Task Force in defining terms and refining the policy. As we have seen, though, a policy is only as effective as the willingness to follow policy. So long as a superintendent uses Policy 000 as means to supersede any other policy or guideline and act unilaterally, application of measures to ensure the rights of students, teachers, and families is at the whim of that superintendent. The recent removal of books (subsequently put back on the shelves) happened with this justification.
As concerned members of the community we can:
- Remain observant and speak up when books face challenges in the future.
- Urge the district to follow their policies to the letter.
- Request clarification of the above proposed policy to ensure that it does not infringe on the rights of students’ access to ideas and their privacy.
- Thank our media specialists, school board, principals, teachers, DEI DIrector, and other administrators for working to meet the needs of all students and for providing a broad range of materials for education and enjoyment.
Our ask right now:
- Email your School Board Director to request clarification on labeling practices in the proposed policy for the vetting, acquisition and labeling of library books in DASD. Feel free to link to this blog post!
- Send a thank you email to your school’s librarian with their principal and the superintendent copied. Let them know how much you appreciate their expertise.