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Central Bucks School District passes library policy many say amounts to a book ban

Superintendent to appoint group to review books in school libraries

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A vaguely worded library policy that puts the power to remove books from school library shelves in the hands of “superintendent’s designees,” was approved by the Central Bucks School Board Tuesday in a 6-3 vote.

Following the decision, the standing-room-only audience called out “shame, shame,” as they filed out of the room, some in tears.

The new policy uses language such as “inappropriate” and “sexualized content” to outline what books will be not be permitted in school libraries, should a group appointed by the superintendent determine the content is not “age appropriate.”

Additionally, parents and other community members can challenge books they object to and ask that they be considered for removal.

Prior to the meeting, about 100 people gathered outside the Doylestown Township administrative building to hear students, educators and representatives from the ACLU and NAACP speak out against the policy, which they said is nothing less than a book ban.

“This is the pretense of a policy,” said Lily Freeman, a student at Central Bucks East High School. “It takes away the rights of students; that is censorship. Only cowards ban and censor books.”

Karen Downey, president of the NAACP of Bucks County, told the crowd the district’s policy is “shortsighted, violent and unforgiveable.” Quoting author Toni Morrison, Downey said, “I remember a time when it was illegal for a black person to be taught to read…I think the people making censorship decisions today are their ancestors.”

“Censorship, said Julie Zaebst, a senior policy advocate for ACLU Pennsylvania, “has no place in schools.” She said the district’s new policy has “no transparency and no recourse when a book is banned.”

Further, said Zaebst, “the vagueness of this policy is by design, it’s what allows the superintendent to proclaim, ‘This isn’t a book ban,’ at the same time as we know terrified teachers are removing books with real literary merit from their classroom libraries out of fear.”

The ACLU, she added, “is watching very closely what’s happening in Central Bucks.”

In May, during a hastily called “emergency” school board meeting to discuss the policy, the district’s attorney, Jeffrey Garton, told the board the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld students’ First Amendment rights.

“Clearly, kids have First Amendment rights that may prevent you from removing books from libraries.” And, he noted, “when you remove books, your criteria and your standards are much different than just adding books.”

Central Bucks is the third largest district in Pennsylvania with more than 17,000 students.

Central Bucks School District

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