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Roanoke County School Board approves updated policy for books in school libraries

Published: Jun. 23, 2022 at 10:43 PM EDT
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ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - “We must continue to put our children first and as long as I serve on this school board, I’m going to ask a question to myself every single day, what are the best interests of our children. And we have to continue to put our children first and whether you agree with me or not, it is what it is, I think we’re going to work through and I think we’ll get there,” said Cheryl Facciani, who represents the Windsor Hills District for the Roanoke County School Board.

Before Thursday night, Roanoke County librarians were allowed to essentially pick and choose which books made it into school libraries.

Now, in elementary schools, two librarians or staff members will need to read and review books before they are allowed to head to the approval process. In secondary schools, one librarian or staff member will need to do the same. Once approved, parents also have a two-week period to review new books before they head to the shelves.

A handful of parents shared their concerns with the new policy before it was passed unanimously by the Roanoke County School Board.

“We need to trust our librarians to be the professionals they are, the professionals we required them to be in order to get their jobs. This means they need to be given the autonomy to fill our libraries with as many and as varied a list of titles as they possibly can. Bound by the age and developmental level of the students they serve, not by the political and social agendas of parents, school boards, or other community members,” said one speaker.

There are also updates to the appeal process from a parent who might not want a book to be in a school library.

The first step in the appeal process starts with the parent connecting with a librarian at the school. If the situation is not resolved, the second step in the appeal process will include a group of librarians, instructors, a parent and stakeholders, who will review and assess the book.

Step three will go from a three-person panel to a five-parent panel selected by the school board to review and assess the book. Step four will continue to be where the school board will make the ultimate decision.

There have been some complaints of censorship, but RCPS leaders disagree.

“We don’t believe it’s censorship at all; we want to make sure that the materials in our libraries are age-appropriate for the students that are able to check them out of the libraries and that’s the main objective,” said David Linden, chairman of the school board.

School Board members also said they will monitor the policy and its impacts on librarians.

“It may be a very arduous situation for the librarians and if that’s the case we’ll certainly be willing to consider any changes that may help ease that burden for them.”

You can find the entire updated document from the Roanoke County School Board website below:

“I. Purpose

A. Objectives of the Media Collection

The library collection is designed:

1. to enhance, support, and enrich the instructional program of our schools;

2. to meet the recreational reading needs of individual students and to support self-directed learning;

3. to provide a broad range of materials in a variety of reading, viewing, and listening formats; and

4. to reflect the various socioeconomic backgrounds, races, cultures, sexes, ethnicities, learning styles, ages, social and emotional development levels, reading abilities, and reading interests of the students served, in consideration of the developmental stage of the student population to whom the collection is available.

B. Roles and Responsibilities in the Selection of Media

1. The selection of media is under the direct responsibility of professionally trained and licensed librarians and is a collaborative effort involving the librarians, teachers, students, parents, and administration.

2. School division instructional supervisors may recommend media in their particular fields.

3. The principal’s major role in planning the media collection is that of interpreting its importance to the total school program and facilitating communication.

II. Selection Criteria and Procedures for Building Library Collections

A. Evaluation Criteria for Media

1. Librarians use reputable, professionally prepared selection aids, such as professional review journals, core collection tools, and conference presentations when selecting media for vetting.

2. Gift materials are evaluated using the same criteria as purchased materials in the library collection. Librarians are under no obligation to include donations in the collection.

3. Librarians use the following criteria for selection of media:

a. current and relevant to the curriculum and/or students’ recreational reading interests;

b. the recommended level of reading, age/grade, and interest of materials selected;

c. align with the diverse social, emotional, and cognitive maturity level of the students for whom they are intended;

d. considered for purchase based on overall merit as a complete work and not excluded from the library collection simply based on an individual component taken out of context;

e. the artistic and technical quality, availability, attractiveness, durability, and timeliness of the media

f. provides accurate and authentic factual content;

g. provides differing viewpoints on controversial subjects, in consideration of the developmental stage of the student population to whom the media is available; and

h. has a recent copyright date as appropriate to the subject;

i. aligns with the stated objectives of the library collection.

4. Librarians use these additional guidelines when making a purchase:

a. Sets of materials for supplementary teaching purposes shall not be purchased with library funds;

b. Duplicate and/or multiple items of outstanding quality/and in high demand may be purchased;

c. Consideration should be given to the selection of library materials for students with special needs; and

d. Selection should be an ongoing process.

B. Maintenance of Library Collections

1. The continuous review and evaluation of library materials by each librarian is a necessary and valuable tool of collection development as a means of maintaining a dynamic and up-to-date library collection.

2. Physically deteriorated or obsolete materials may be replaced or removed.

3. Weeding is the process of removing items from a library to keep the collection current, appealing and relevant. This is an ongoing and necessary task that ensures that the library evolves to meet the needs of changing curricula, formats, instructional methods, and the current interests and needs of the students and faculty.

4. The school librarian is responsible for weeding.

C. Procedures for Building Media Collections

1. Elementary

a. Librarians select media from a list developed through a collaborative process managed by professionally trained and licensed RCPS librarians.

b. Prior to adding media to the library collection, two elementary librarians read and review the media under consideration. The librarians may accept assistance from RCPS teachers to read and review media.

c. A written summary of the review is provided to all elementary librarians and the supervisor of library services.

d. If all elementary librarians agree that the proposed media meets the criteria for inclusion in the library collection for elementary schools, the media is added to the list of vetted media and is eligible for purchase by elementary librarians, pending a two-week period of parent review.

2. Secondary

a. Librarians select media from a list developed through a collaborative process managed by professionally trained and licensed RCPS librarians.

b. Prior to adding media to the library collection, one middle or high school librarian reads and reviews the media under consideration. The librarians may accept assistance from RCPS teachers to read and review media.

c. A written summary of the review is provided to all middle and high school librarians and the supervisor of library services.

d. If all middle school librarians agree that the proposed media meets the criteria for inclusion in the library collection for middle schools, the media is added to the list of vetted media and is eligible for purchase by middle school librarians, pending a two-week parent period of parent review.

e. If all high school librarians agree that the proposed media meets the criteria for inclusion in the library collection for high schools, the media is added to the list of vetted media and is eligible for purchase by high school librarians, pending a two-week period of parent review.

3. Parent Review

a. Prior to new media being made available for check out, the title of the media is posted in the library database for two weeks for parent review.

b. Parents who object to media added to the librarian collection may notify the librarian that their child may not check out the media to which they object.

III. Reconsideration of media

A. General Principle

Despite the collaborative process and adherence to criteria used in the selection process, occasionally a concern is expressed about media in the library collection. Roanoke County Public Schools recognizes the rights of parents or guardians to express an opinion, per the principles of intellectual freedom, and considers requests by parents or guardians of Roanoke County Public School students to restrict use or remove library material from the collection.

B. Informal Request for Reconsideration of Media

If a parent or guardian objects to the inclusion of certain media in the library collection, they should first attempt to resolve the objection informally via a conference between the complainant and the librarian. The supervisor of library services may also become involved informally to serve as a consultant.

C. Formal Request for Reconsideration of Media: Level One

1. If the objection cannot be resolved informally, the librarian informs the complainant of the formal procedure for reconsideration of library materials and asks them to file with the principal a written complaint using the “Parent/Guardian Request for Reconsideration of Library Material” form.

2. Once the written complaint and the library material are given to the principal, the principal will immediately notify and forward a copy of the complaint to the librarian and supervisor of library services.

3. Upon receipt of the complaint, the principal gives the supervisor of library services contact information for the Library Reconsideration Committee. This committee consists of each of the following stakeholders who will be selected by the principal of the school where the child attends:

a. a librarian from another school (same level),

b. a parent,

c. a teacher,

d. a school counselor, and

e. an administrator.

f. (the committee may also include a student if at the high school level)

4. The librarian checks out the material to a committee member(s) for review purposes until the complaint is resolved or appealed.

5. The supervisor of library services serves as the facilitator. He/she ensures the committee knows it responsibilities, is provided with appropriate materials, and facilitates any meetings (online or in-person).

6. The Library Reconsideration Committee’s responsibilities in response to the written complaint include:

a. reviewing the RCPS Library Collection Policy

b. reading written documentation concerning the material, including the complaint

c. reading the material in its entirety, not just select parts.

d. reading critical reviews (provided by the librarian or supervisor of library services)

e. discussing the material in its entirety

f. reaching a consensus concerning recommendation of library material

g. completing the form titled: “Reconsideration of Library Material Report” and

h. filing the form with the supervisor of library media services.

7. It is the responsibility of the supervisor of library services to notify the principal and librarian of the decision of the committee.

8. It is the responsibility of the principal to notify the parents/guardians of the decision and to explain the appeal process.

9. A summary of the written complaint and recommendation of the Library Reconsideration Committee is issued to all librarians in the system from the supervisor of library services.

10. If a decision is made to remove or restrict the library material, then the material is removed or restricted from all other schools of the same level within the division.

11. Once a recommendation from the Library Reconsideration Committee has been made and is not appealed, the media is not eligible for reconsideration based on the same complaint.

12. If the complainant wishes to appeal the recommendation of the Library Reconsideration Committee, they petition the principal in writing within five working days.

D. Formal Request for Reconsideration of Media: Level Two

1. Upon receipt of an appeal of the Level One decision form the original complainant, the superintendent’s designee forms an Appeals Committee. This committee consists of one parent representative appointed by each school board member for a total of five committee members. The appointed parents are parents from the same school level as the school from which the complaint originated.

2. The superintendent’s designee, a principal from the same level, and the supervisor of library media services will serve as non-voting members of the committee.

3. The responsibilities of the Appeals Committee include:

a. reviewing the Roanoke County Library Collection Policy.

b. reviewing the written recommendations from the Library Reconsideration Committee and examining all reports leading to the decision.

c. reaching a consensus to affirming or not the recommendation of the Library Reconsideration Committee;

d. completing the form titled “Library Material Appeals Committee Report”

e. filing the report with the superintendent and supervisor of library services.

4. The superintendent, or designee, prepares a letter of response to the complainant and forwards copies of the letter and Appeals Committee’s report to the appropriate executive director, the library supervisor, and the appropriate principal.

5. A summary of the recommendation of the appeal committee is issued to all librarians in the system from the supervisor of library services.

6. If a decision is made to restrict or remove the library material, then all schools at the same level restrict or remove the material.

7. Once a recommendation from the appeal committee has been made and is not appealed, the media is not be eligible for reconsideration based on the same complaint.

8. If the complainant wishes to appeal the recommendation of the Appeals Committee, a written request must be made within five working days to the superintendent, or designee.

E. Appeal to the School Board

1. Upon receipt of an appeal from the complainant of the Appeals Committee from Level Two, the superintendent, or designee, notifies the school board and they receive all prior committee reports and the documentation reviewed by the previous committees.

2. Within 30 calendar days, the school board votes to allow the material to remain in the library or not and notifies the complainant and the supervisor of library media services.

3. A summary of the recommendation of the school board is issued to all librarians in the system from the supervisor of library services.

4. Once the recommendation from the school board has been made, the media is not be eligible for reconsideration based on the same complaint.

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