A standing-room-only crowd spilled into the hallway last week, as the Central Bucks School Board’s policy committee held a special meeting to discuss its library policy and diffuse the considerable criticism it’s prompted.
District librarians and teachers challenged the proposed policy that, among other requirements, would have all new library books be approved by district officials before they could be placed on shelves. Saying such enforcement would open the door to censorship, the educators cited letters from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Education Law Center highlighting that concern.
The ACLU recently tweeted that the proposed policy is an “expressway to censorship.”
In a letter to the school board concerning the section of the policy regarding books with “sexualized content,” the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, said, “failure to require consideration of a book in its entirety and instead direct removal based on an excerpt of alleged vague ‘sexualized content’ reflects the policy’s impermissible targeting of a viewpoint that is disliked by certain members of the Board.”
Colleen Graney, a librarian at CB West High School, told the committee, “The new library policy 109.2 will restrict our ability to support our faculty and inspire and serve our students. This policy as written will prevent librarians from adding many new and relevant books to our school libraries thereby restricting student access to the very materials our own professional staff recommends.”
And, Graney noted, of the school’s 20,000 library books, 16,000 are nonfiction and “support the district’s curriculum and interests.”
The committee later did agree to amend the provision calling for approval of all new books, although it remains unclear how the matter will be resolved. Other aspects of the policy, including a section on “avoiding inappropriate content,” were not addressed at the meeting.
A proposed new policy requiring district officials to review all teachers’ “supplemental materials” and upload them to a public website before they could be used in the classroom sparked grave concern among a number of teachers.
“Good, authentic teaching is not anchored by textbooks,” said ninth-grade teacher Scott Felton, stressing the need for teachers to have freedom to enhance district curriculum. Another teacher showed the committee a thick binder of her supplemental materials that would be subject to the new policy.
Central Bucks Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh stressed that teachers will continue to have autonomy. “That protects creativity essential to our students,” he said.
The district’s attorney, Jeffrey Garton, told the board the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld student’s 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.”
The full school board is expected to review the revised policy, and could make additional changes, at its next meeting on June 10.