What one family decides is a book worth studying may be a material that another family finds offensive.
The balancing act school districts play in the process was spotlighted this week when Hempfield Area School Board members heard from district librarians regarding text selection, as officials considered tweaking a policy related to reevaluating what books should be available for students and which one should be restricted.
Librarians outlined the process of how texts are selected and informed parents of ways to view a list of books available in Hempfield school libraries.
The school board’s policy committee is considering possible changes to the policy that determines how school materials are reevaluated if they are questioned. There has been a debate in the district after high school students were allowed access to two books deemed inappropriate by a small group of parents.
“Libraries make book and material selections to match the reading interest of their community and support the curriculum topics and research,” said Beth McGuire, a middle school librarian and library department chair. Librarians utilize book reviews from peer-reviewed journals, state reading lists and national literary awards.
From there, book orders are given to the department chairperson and the appropriate assistant superintendent.
Full library catalogs by school, including eBooks, can be viewed at hadspa.net.
“I think there’s still a lot of work to be done on this,” said board President Tony Bompiani. “I don’t want to just throw it away.”
Over the past several months, several parents have questioned “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, which chronicles Johnson’s journey growing up as a queer Black boy. That text is available virtually in the district.
Parents also questioned “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person” by Frederick Joseph, which reflects the author’s experiences on racism.
A formal complaint was filed against the books, both of which went through the review process laid out in the policy.
As the policy stands, a district resident can formally request the reevaluation of instructional or resource materials in school libraries or classrooms. During informal challenges, the building principal will attempt to resolve the issues by explaining the procedure, criteria and qualifications for selecting the resource.
If the issue is not resolved, the resident can file a formal challenge, which is reviewed by the superintendent.
A committee will then read the entirety of the book being challenged. After that, the committee meets and reviews the book using a series of questions laid out in the policy.
Policy committee members last month made several suggestions on how to tweak the policy to make for a fairer process.
“Whether or not the book is offensive is a subjective decision,” said high school librarian Nicole Owens. “What one person considers inappropriate may be a beloved classic to another.”
She added that the best resource for finding out what is in the library is a parent’s child.
“You have the ability to view the catalogue,” Owens said. “Discuss with your children what is deemed appropriate or inappropriate for your own family. Ask your children what they are reading and you might end up having a very good discussion with them.”
In a letter sent to parents Tuesday, Superintendent Tammy Wolicki stressed that board members are not banning books.
“Rather, the process of policy development is being used to consider potential ‘common ground,’” she said.
Over the past several meetings, a few parents have continued to push for a policy change.
“I do need to get something clear regarding the challenged books,” Paula Cinti said during last month’s board meeting. “This is not about censorship, and it’s not about banning books. Our media and those who oppose a policy change have turned this into something that it is not.”
Cinti then presented the board with a batch of what she called award-winning brownies, stating they are made with the finest chocolate and sugar.
“The only thing that I should tell you is that I did use just a small amount of manure in these brownies. … So who wants a brownie?,” she asked. “Sexually explicit content in challenged books is like the manure in these brownies. It should turn you off 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 age-appropriate resource selection for the well-being of our student body.”
Despite pushback from some parents, a large group attended in support of keeping the policy as it stands.
“I want to express my support for the current book review policy,” said Ceil Kessler. “This system is thoughtful, it’s deliberate, it’s objective and it takes into account the views of parents.”
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .