Iredell-Statesville Schools staff will conduct an official review of less than a dozen books after the district’s lead media coordinator completed an initial review of about 75 books that were challenged by a parent.

Karen VanVliet told the I-SS Board of Education that she had eliminated the vast majority of books from the lengthy challenge list.

Many of the books on the list were not on the library shelves in district schools, and others did not meet the legal criteria for removal, VanVliet said during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. For example, books about racism or religion, along with biographies and nonfiction works, were taken off the challenge list.

“School officials do not have the right to pull books off a library shelf simply because they dislike the ideas in those books,” she explained, citing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a 1982 case, Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District No. 26 v. Pico.

“Even as minors, students have First Amendment rights to receive information and ideas; however, school officials can remove books that are pervasively vulgar,” she added.

The child of the parent who filed the challenge has not checked out any of the books on the list, VanVliet said. In fact, the child has only checked out one library book.

Meanwhile, the books on the list challenged by the parent have been checked out 1,500 times by other students — and not one challenge has been filed by a parent, she added.

VanVliet told the board that she questioned the validity of the complaint, saying it was “plagiarized by cutting and pasting from unknown sources.” The parent had not evaluated any of the titles on the challenge list, she added.

“Moving forward, we need to ensure that parents adhere to the process as set forth by board policy,” she said. “Parents can only make decisions about what their own child is reading. They cannot impose those decisions on other children.”

Superintendent Jeff James said the district would form nine-person committees to review the small number of books that VanVliet did not eliminate to determine if they contain “pervasive vulgarity.” During that review, students will only be able to check out those books with parental approval, he said.

James reiterated VanVliet’s recommendation that parents follow the district’s policy for challenging books. A parent who has an issue with a book should contact the school principal, who will provide the paperwork for beginning the process.

The superintendent stressed the importance of making sure parents have the correct title and author before making any complaint.

“It creates some issues when we accuse principals of being purveyors of pornography on their shelves when they are truly not,” James said. “Right now, we have a hard enough time attracting employees. We don’t need to be falsely accusing people.”

There have only been two bona fide book challenges filed with I-SS principals during the current school year.

Board member Bill Howell publicly expressed his support for VanVliet and the district’s media coordinators. Board members Charles Kelly and Sam Kennington said the district’s policy should be followed.

Meanwhile, board member Bryan Shoemaker said parents’ concerns should be taken seriously.

“I’d just like to say some of the concerns about some of these titles are absolutely valid, and I do agree we need to follow the process, but we can’t discount the concern of some of these parents just because a child has never checked those out.”

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