The Central Bucks School Board has approved of Policy 109.2, allowing school library books to be banned, should a concerned district resident and a CB staff member find any of the book’s material to be too inappropriate.
This policy makes it so any Central Bucks resident, particularly parents of Central Bucks students, can request to remove a book from a school library, at which point either a district-level librarian supervisor or an employee appointed by the superintendent will review it.
If the reviewer finds the book’s material to be too sexually graphic or explicit based on a set of guidelines, the book in question will be banned from CBSD libraries. The guidelines in question vary somewhat between elementary, middle, and high school libraries, but all seek to weed out texts containing references, descriptions, or depictions of sex or sexual acts. In the case of elementary school libraries, books can also be removed for implied depictions of nudity.
Both the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) oppose the policy, as do local teachers, librarians, and activists. In general, many parties said they feel the policy’s language will open the door for anyone to get a book banned because they disagree with the ideas and concepts found within.
Policy 109.2 states that it will make exceptions for “recognized classics.”
“Who determines what qualifies as a classic?” says Katrina Filiatro, who argues Policy 109.2 not only runs the risk of violating previous Supreme Court rulings around censorship, but will also be unduly burdensome on staff members’ tasks with enforcing it. “And will that list include modern classics written to include diverse relationships and experiences of all people?”
Rachel Fitzpatrick, co-leader of PFlag Bucks County, an LGBTQ+ nonprofit organization, said she fears that the policy will result in the removal of queer literature, which she argues is vital for students to learn about who they are. “No single story, or a couple of stories, suffice to represent the diversity of an entire group,” said Fitzpatrick. She continued, “School is a place where kids can explore their identity…These efforts to ban books take this chance away from our children.”
Former student Lindsey Freeman agreed with Fitzpatrick. She discussed antisemitism she faced throughout her time as a student, and how books helped her through it. Freeman goes on to mention that there are already policies in place that give parents a say in what children can read. Without the new policy, Parents could already request that their children not be allowed to check out certain books, or for their children to be exempt from certain in-class readings, should they not want them to be exposed to the material.
The NCAC criticized Policy 109.2’s language, while also warning against a system in which only one person gets to decide whether to ban a book. Lila Casey read an official statement from NCAC aloud at the July 26 school board meeting. “It should not be the responsibility of one individual to define educational suitability for an entire community,” Casey read. “In our experience, the best practice is to establish a committee that includes a teacher, administrator, community member, parent, and even an older student. This creates opportunity for the expression of a range of views and minimizes the danger that a book will be removed because of bias.”
Though generally outnumbered at this particular board meeting, Central Bucks residents did voice their support for the policy. CB resident Rose Busick argued that if students want to read the removed books, they can always go to a non-CBSD library for them. “I read [’The Exorcist’ and ‘The Godfather’] in my junior year, but I did not get them at a school library.”
When it came time for the board to approve Policy 109.2, a debate broke out among the board members. Board member Dr. Tabitha Dell’Angelo expressed the version of the policy they were voting on was different from the previous versions they had discussed as a group. When she asked the board who was responsible for the new draft, fellow board member Lisa Sciscio claimed that Dell’Angelo only brought up the source because she “needed a boogieman.”
Eventually, with 6 votes for and 3 votes against, Policy 109.2 was approved. This prompted many who attended the meeting to leave, with some yelling “Boo” or “Shame on you” on their way out. Board President Dana Hunter spoke as they left, sarcastically complimenting the attendees for their “maturity.”