The Gettysburg Area School District Policy Committee has recommended the addition of one sentence to its policy on library materials. The new line reads:
The Superintendent or Designee will develop a procedure to allow parents to have the option to limit access to “challenged books.”
Policy Committee Chair Michael Dickerson said the district already allowed parents to opt out of curriculum materials based on religious or philosophical beliefs, but that the policy did not include library materials.
“The current procedures for curriculum would not have covered library resource materials, so the administration felt this would be the best option,” he said. “The new policy would allow the superintendent or acting authority to use the policy to extend the right of the parent to library books that might obtain vulgar or offensive material.”
The district said it was not interested in banning books. “Our board is not interested in limiting titles in our library for our students, only individual parents would be able to limit access for their own children; not affecting access for others,” said GASD superintendent Jason Perrin via email.
“The consensus of the board members I talked to is that no one was interested in banning books,” said Dickerson. “No one was interested in coming up with a rating system. No one wanted to keep students from reading books. Let the parents and family decide – give them informed consent. We’re trusting our administration, teachers, and librarians.”
“The administration doesn’t cherry-pick. We buy books from media companies, and local organizations donate books,” said Dickerson, adding that some library materials might include graphic descriptions of sex acts between underage children or drug use, for instance. “We’re not saying a book can’t be in our library. We don’t want to be in the news for telling a child they can’t have a book.”
The district said they would likely allow parents to restrict access to books that were on lists of “challenged” books or on the basis of book genres. “There are media companies who rate titles. You can search by content or genre. If I didn’t want my child to have access to any books that represent drug use, for instance, you can identify that by cataloging,” said Dickerson.
Perrin said via email that he didn’t have access to the specific list of “challenged” books. “Similar to other districts, we will likely utilize the already established list of 100 most challenged books. It is already a list that folks are familiar with and updated at times. We will not be creating our own list, but could add to it if necessary following any future book challenges in our libraries,” he said.
Dickerson said school librarians were integral to the decision-making and that procedures for allowing parents to opt out were made available through a software system the district was already purchasing. “During the course of a technological refresh, there were new software vendors. Our IT folks went out and asked. It turns out the software did allow flagging books by category. We didn’t want to put a bunch of extra work on the librarians,” he said.
Dickerson said parents would be able to make a written request that their children could not borrow materials with a specific title or from a given genre.
The district emphasized that the policy change was still under review and had not yet been approved by the school board.
Dickerson said he did not know how many books are checked out each year from district libraries.