Librarians, parents weigh in on Hempfield’s library book policy as some titles are questioned



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What one family decides a book is worth studying may be material that another family finds offensive.

The balancing act school districts are playing in the process was spotlighted this week when members of the Hempfield Area School Board heard from district librarians about text selection as officials consider amending a policy related to re-evaluating which books should be available to students. and which should be limited.

Librarians outlined the process of how texts are selected and informed parents about ways to view a list of books available in Hempfield’s school libraries.

The school board’s policy committee considers possible changes to the policy governing how school materials are reassessed if they are questioned. A debate is raging in the neighborhood after high school students gained access to two books deemed inappropriate by a small group of parents.

“Librarians make selections of books and materials that suit their community’s reading interest and support curriculum topics and research,” said Beth McGuire, high school librarian and chair of the library department. “Librarians use book reviews from peer-reviewed journals, state reading lists, and national literary awards.”

From there, book orders are given to the department chair and the appropriate assistant superintendent.

Full library catalogs by school, including eBooks, can be viewed at hadspa.net.

“I think there is still a lot of work to be done,” said CEO Tony Bompiani. “I don’t want to just throw it away.”

In recent months, several parents have asked the question “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, which chronicles Johnson’s journey while growing up as a queer black kid. This text is virtually available in the neighbourhood.

Parents also suggested “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person” by Frederick Joseph, which reflects the author’s experiences on racism.

A formal complaint has been made against the books, both of which have gone through the review process outlined in the policy.

As is current policy, a community resident may formally request reassessment of instructional or resource materials in school libraries or classrooms. During informal challenges, the developer will try to solve the problems by explaining the procedure, criteria and qualifications for selecting the source.

If the problem is not resolved, the resident can make a formal complaint, which is reviewed by the inspector.

A committee then reads the entire book that is being challenged. The committee then meets and assesses the book against a series of questions laid down in the policy.

Members of the policy committee made several suggestions last month to adjust the policy for a fairer trial.

“Whether the book is offensive or not is a subjective decision,” says high school librarian Nicole Owens. “What one considers inappropriate may be a beloved classic to another.”

She added that the best source for finding out what’s in the library is a parent’s child.

“You have the option to view the catalog,” Owens said. “Discuss with your children what is or is not considered appropriate for your own family. Ask your kids what they read and you might get a really good chat with them.”

In a letter sent to parents on Tuesday, Chief Inspector Tammy Wolicki emphasized that board members do not ban books.

“Rather, the policy development process is used to consider possible ‘common ground’,” she said.

Input from parents

In the past several meetings, a few parents have continued to push for a policy change.

“I need to get something clear about the challenged books,” said Paula Cinti at last month’s board meeting. “This is not about censorship, and it is not about banning books. Our media and those who are against a policy change have turned this into something it is not.”

Cinti then presented the plate with a batch of what she called award-winning brownies, stating that they are made with the finest chocolate and sugar.

“All I have to tell you is that I only used a little bit of fertilizer in these brownies. … So who wants a brownie?” she asked. “Sexually explicit content in challenged books is like the dung in these brownies. It should deter you from making these selections available to our young students, even if said books have won an award.

“This is not about censorship or banning books. This is all about the responsible selection of age-appropriate resources for the well-being of our students.”

Despite reluctance from some parents, a large group attended to enforce the policy as it is.

“I want to express my support for the current book review policy,” said Ceil Kessler. “This system is well thought out, it’s considered, it’s objective and takes parental opinions into account.”

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, mtomasic@triblive.com or via Twitter

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