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Library books, teacher speech policies still a flash point in Central Bucks


Public comments at the Feb. 7 Central Bucks School Board meeting were not particularly focused on the policies up for vote that evening. Rather, the vast majority of comments centered on addressing the recently passed Policy 321 and Policy 109.2.

Both policies received significant community backlash upon their initial approval by the board majority, criticism that’s continued as the policies begin to be enforced.

Approved during the July 26 board meeting, Policy 109.2 outlined a new book review system for the district. Under this system, any resident of Bucks County can file a complaint about a school’s library book and get it pulled, so long as a superintendent appointee or a district-level librarian supervisor, agree it should be removed.

It is still unclear how Policy 109.2 is being implemented, but its existence alone is enough to cause unrest, to the point where retired educator Liz Downing, of Doylestown Township, chose to read aloud the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s response letter regarding the policy. FIRE detailed what previous court decisions allowed and did not allow schools to do, and stated the district’s library policy is in need of revision.

“Although Central Bucks has discretion to determine what content to carry in its libraries, based on bona fide considerations of educational suitability,” Downing read, “the district must ensure its policies and procedures advance that interest, and minimize the risk of outcomes motivated by opposition to certain viewpoints or ideas.”

The Central Bucks School Board majority passed Policy 321 Jan. 10, effectively giving schools the right to limit what teachers are allowed to discuss, display and endorse.

“Students like their teachers,” Central Bucks High School student Zandie Hall said at the Jan. 10 board meeting. “Teachers like their students. Teachers don’t want to help their students and think ‘Am I going to get fired?’.”

Betty Esris, a retired Central Bucks teacher, had much to say regarding both policies. She cited the changes public schools have undergone over the past several decades to be more inclusive, going as far back as the Civil Rights Movement that eventually halted the segregation of classrooms based on skin color.

She also shared the story of her daughter, who spent her childhood unaware that she had autism. She only came to that realization in college because of an article in TIME Magazine. Esris asserts that had there been more books in the library about Autism Spectrum Disorder, and if there had been a more robust support system for neurodivergent students, her daughter “would have been spared a painful adolescence.”

“Students in the LGBTQIA+ community need encouragement and validation of identity. They need to see themselves in books, just as my autistic daughter needed to see herself, and know she had a right to live,” said Esris. “This is the time in which our nation must recognize a truth about our population, the complexity of gender identity, and provide a haven for the children who are dealing with this reality while they also navigate adolescence.”

The February board meeting also saw a brief appearance from Walter Masterson, a comedian and influencer with over 1.2 million followers on TikTok. He is well known for satirizing the far-right. He delivered a rambling speech caricaturing the policies’ supporters.

“So yeah, I think we need to protect freedom and liberty, democracy and freedom of speech,” said Masterson, “and the way we do that is by banning Pride Flags, banning books in schools, [and] not allowing people to say the word ‘gay’.”

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