Wicomico Schools may have panel review parents' objections to books

By Liz Holland
Posted 3/3/24

SALISBURY — Wicomico County Board of Education members are expected to approve changes to the school system’s media policy after parents and other community members complained in January …

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Wicomico Schools may have panel review parents' objections to books


SALISBURY — Wicomico County Board of Education members are expected to approve changes to the school system’s media policy after parents and other community members complained in January about two books they found to be offensive and inappropriate for students.

Currently, the school system has one policy to deal with curriculum-related materials and media materials, but they plan to create a separate policy to deal with media only.

The new policy and revisions to the old one are scheduled for a vote at the March 12 board meeting.

At a recent work session, board member John Palmer said the board should be proactive and find a way to keep certain books out of school libraries in the first place.

“Now we are reacting,” he said. “We need to attack at the beginning.”

But Palmer’s suggestion that the board approve books before they end up in schools was deemed impractical by other board members: Roughly 9,000 new books are added systemwide each year.

School system staff members said parents and board members can find a list of recently added books on Destiny which can be accessed through the public schools website. Some board members said it is hard to find the link to Destiny and suggested making it more accessible.

The proposed revisions to the policy include a procedure for reviewing books that receive a formal complaint from parents or guardians with a review by a nine-member committee.

Once the committee makes a recommendation, it is forwarded it to the chief academic officer who then will send it to the superintendent. The superintendent will make the final decision within 10 school days.

If a parent or guardian is not satisfied with the superintendent’s decision, they may request a hearing with the Board of Education within 30 school days. The board may grant a hearing or render a decision based upon information gathered from all parties.

The Media Resources Reconsideration Committee will consist of nine members appointed annually by the superintendent. Members will include the school system’s Supervisor of Media, who will act as the chairperson. Others include the Director of Curriculum, Instructional Resources, and Professional Development, one certified library media specialist, one English reading teacher, three parents or guardians of a child currently enrolled in the school system, one of the high school Student Government Association representatives to the Board of Education, with consent of a parent or guardian, and one community member with library operations/management experience who is not a school system employee.

Parents and guardians also can flag certain books they don’t want their own children to check out from school libraries.

Three board members — John Palmer, Kristin Hazel and Susan Beauchamp — said other community members, including “taxpayers with standing,” should be allowed to ask for certain books be removed from shelves.

But the other four members, including Board President Gene Malone, said they were against the idea because it could cause “an onslaught” of people who are not stakeholders in the school system.

“It would allow anyone off the street to come in,” said board member David Plotts.

In addition to Malone and Plotts, board members Allen Brown and Bonnie Ennis also said only parents and legal guardians should be allowed to file complaints about certain reading materials.

The school system has had no appeals in the past two years and only three books were reviewed under the administration of former Superintendent Donna Hanlin.

The four people who spoke at the January meeting said they want two books removed from school shelves: “Bodies Are Cool” by Tyler Feder and “The Haters” by Jesse Andrews.

“Bodies Are Cool,” described on Amazon as a “cheerful love-your-body picture book for preschoolers,” also celebrates body diversity, including transexuals.

“The Haters,” a New York Times Bestseller, follows the adventures of three teenagers who run off from summer jazz camp on a road trip through the South and find themselves in “crazy situations,” according to one online review.

So far, no parents have initiated a formal review for either book, according to Assistant Superintendent Brian Raygor.

Both books have been banned in school library systems across the United States.

Meanwhile, a bill before the Maryland General Assembly called the Freedom to Read Act would set standards for libraries that receive funding from the state.

The bill would prohibit “county boards of education and the governing bodies of certain libraries from retaliating against employees for acting in a manner consistent with the state standards for libraries under certain circumstances.”

The bill also spells out that “library materials, services, and resources exist and should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all persons the library serves.”

Additionally, “a library should not exclude material from its catalogue because of the origin, background, or views of a person who created the material; and a library should not prohibit or remove material from its catalogue because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

The bill has had first readings in both the state Senate and House of Delegates.

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