BY KARISSA MILLER
Iredell-Statesville Schools leaders set the record straight this week by detailing efforts to prevent students from accessing books that are inappropriate for their age at the public libraries.
The presentation at Monday’s board meeting came a few weeks after a Moms for Liberty member spread misinformation about the Student Access accounts during the board’s public comment period. The same individual outraged many in the community by reading aloud sexually explicit material that she claimed was easily accessible to I-SS students via the local public libraries.
Partnership with the local libraries
I-SS Director of Digital Technology and Learning Jackie Parker gave the school board an overview of the district’s partnership with the Iredell County Public Library System and the Mooresville Public Library.
In 2017, Iredell County Public Library staff decided to work to increase the resources available to students with Student Access accounts. Through a partnership with the school system, she said, the library provided increased access to print materials, which helped increase student interests in reading.
The partnership also allowed the district to save money by having to order multiple copies of the same books and gave the schools a way provide additional research materials to students.
Parker said students were able to gain access to a curation of digital materials through NC Digital Kids and the Iredell public collection.
This partnership, she said, created equitable access to books and other materials. Students who don’t have transportation to the library — or money to purchase books — could request books be brought to their school through a courier system.
In 2021, the partnership expanded to the Mooresville Public Library. According to Parker, this partnership was beneficial to The Brawley IB School students.
With the Mooresville partnership, she said, students have access to some of the same resources, but if students wanted to check out a book, they had to pick it up in person at the library.
Other benefits of the partnerships with the libraries include:
• No library fines: Students are not charged late penalties at either library system for overdue materials. The only fees are for materials not returned.
• Materials can be sent to the school: Iredell Public Library sends the materials to the individual school. Therefore transportation does not become a barrier for families.
• Additional Materials: The county library allows students to check out up to 25 print materials. Mooresville allows up to five.
• Online Account: Parents can easily access their child’s account history.
Parker emphasized that the Student Access accounts are optional. Parents can opt their child out of the program at any time.
The district invited I-SS lead media coordinator Lauren Roberts, Iredell County Public Library Executive Director Juli Moore, Mooresville Public Library Director Marian Lytle and Iredell Library Branch Manager Kelli Goodwin to answer questions about their process regarding the Student Access accounts.
School board member Mike Kubiniec asked if it was possible for a student to download sexually explicit material on a school device.
Parker said it was not possible because the district restricts access to those eBooks.
School board member Doug Knight asked if certain books could be blocked by software for students trying to check out print materials that aren’t age appropriate from the public library.
“That doesn’t happen very often. If a 10-year-old is requesting an adult fiction novel that’s inappropriate, we aren’t going to send that over,” Moore explained.
The courier system was created, Moore said, as a result of feedback from the media coordinators that there was a barrier for students who didn’t live close to a library.
“We wrote a grant and partnered with the school system to provide a courier system. We courier their items in a bag and drop off at ADR center and then it’s brought over to their school library,” Moore said.
Roberts also explained that if a librarian sees a book is not age appropriate, they contact the media coordinator at the student’s school before filling the request and sending the book.
As an additional safeguard, the media coordinator at the schools check for appropriateness before delivering materials to students.
Board member Brian Sloan said the library staff and media coordinators had a big responsibility.
“We want the best for our kids. We want them reading books that are wholesome and healthy and read a bunch of them. I’m asking you to please help defend us,” he said.
Parker said that the district has tightened the restrictions so that students in middle school and elementary school can only get juvenile books.
“There’s some middle schoolers who are probably going to get upset because some of the titles that they have read, that you wouldn’t think, for instance ‘The Hunger Games,’ it has some violence in it and killing because they do that to survive,” Parker said. “That’s considered a YA book, and now they can’t check that out digitally.”
This school year, there have been 8,706 book checkouts (both in person and brought to the school) through Student Access accounts at the Iredell County Public Library.
There have been 5,000 digital materials checked out through the Student Access account.
Around 3,000 SORA materials, or eBooks and audio books, have been checked out digitally.
I-SS Superintendent Jeff James said the partnership with the libraries is important and the district works with the community to ensure appropriate access.