Schlehofer: Wicomico Schools should not restrict access to books


I am increasingly concerned that our County Board of Education is considering adopting policies which allow for broad personal bias to interfere with book collections development and book reconsideration procedures, and I believe that several of the proposed modifications to the existing policies fundamentally undermine parental rights.

There has been a lot of manipulation of language that is serving the interests of people looking to control access to information; among those is twisting of the definition of a book ban itself.

Anytime you remove someone’s access to a book, it is a book ban by legal definition.

It does not matter if the book is theoretically available at another location, such as the public library or a bookstore. The exception to this is culling collections to remove outdated books, which is not book banning.

The school district is a public (government) entity, and their libraries are public libraries, and thus have First Amendment protections. Books available in public schools must serve a diverse range of children who vary in experience, interest, reading ability, motivation to read, family background, and many other dimensions.

All kids should find themselves interested in and represented by materials in the school library.

Media specialists with degrees in library sciences are trained in First Amendment protections and how to carefully curate a collection of library materials that meets the needs of children in the district.
We cannot leave this to personal opinion or public input, which allows too much interjection of personal, political, or ideological bias.

Any book reconsideration policy adopted by the school must prioritize objective review of materials which are not influenced by personal values, personal ideologies, and personal morals. This was established by SCOTUS in Island Trees v. Pico (1982) in which it was ruled that, in short, schools cannot remove books just because they disagree with their content.

To think that our County School Board is considering allowing general members of the public who do not have kids in our schools — or even kids at all — to remove my child’s access to books is absurd.

Members of the public who are not connected to our school community do not speak for me and other parents served by the school. The general public’s responsibility over my child’s education should end with their vote for members of the Board of Education.

I and other parents are fully competent to make decisions about what’s best for our kids, and the Board of Education should uphold and prioritize parental rights in their book reconsideration policies.

Likewise, our County Board of Education is considering allowing books to be removed during the reconsideration process–that is, while simply under review. Such a policy change opens up a wide opportunity for politicization of school libraries as it would allow for one person who has a personal bias to make decisions on behalf of all families served by the school.

This type of policy also positions the school to act in loco parentis — making decisions on behalf of parents based on one complaint. One person with a personal opinion on a book should not be able to have such a sweeping impact on our schools.

I also find it very concerning that the school Board is considering adopting a policy to place some books into a “restricted” section of the school library. Placing some books in a “restricted” area is problematic as it, again, allows for injection of personal bias and removes some children’s access to books.

Recommendations such as “grade level ratings” or “suggested age levels” should not be used to make determinations of what books children can access.

These designations are not in and of themselves helpful to determine whether a book is appropriate for any particular child, as there is a lot of variation in reading ability, literacy, critical thinking skills, personal experience, etc. even within kids of the same age or grade. This would be akin to making a 5-year-old who is above average in height squeeze into clothes labeled for their age because the label on the clothing says it “should” fit.

I strongly urge the Board to adopt book collections and reconsideration policies which uphold parental rights and access to information.

Michele Schlehofer is a parent with two children in Wicomico County Public Schools.
Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.