BY MIKE FUHRMAN
The Iredell-Statesville Schools Board of Education has taken a stand for common sense and for parental rights in the face public pressure from a group of would-be book-banners who are actively working to destabilize public education.
A month after a Moms for Liberty member accused I-SS school libraries of providing students with access to “pornographic literature,” the district has stood its ground.
This week folks who want the district to remove 33 books from the district’s libraries asked for a private meeting with the board to discuss this matter. Such a meeting would be inappropriate and illegal under the state’s open meetings laws.
Like the group of individuals who has attempted to disrupt meetings of the I-SS and Mooresville Graded School District board meetings with their ridiculous bond claims and “you’ve been served” battle cries, these would-be book-banners are an impediment to public education.
The district’s lead media specialist explained during a board meeting earlier this month how district employees select books for school libraries and how the district responds to parental complaints about individual books.
This important work is grounded in the district’s sound policies and practices.
Media specialists, working in conjunction with their principals, select new books each year based on the recommendations of education and library organizations and respected publishing industry leaders. These decisions are made at the school level, according to Karen Van Vliet, the district’s lead media specialist. Each school’s unique mission and demographics, as well as the age appropriateness of individual books, are considered when books are being evaluated, she explained.
District libraries house over 300,000 books. According to VanVliet, I-SS students checked out 25,000 books in February and more than 160,000 titles have been checked out since the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
I-SS principals and media specialists are currently reviewing complaints about 33 books across the district.
When a parent files a complaint with their child’s principal about a particular book, it begins a process in which a committee of teachers — from across different grade levels and subject matters — at that school reviewing the complaint and the book. That nine-member committee then determines if the book is appropriate for that school library.
Only one book had actually been challenged by a parent through the end of February so it’s clear that this is not an issue that is keeping most parents up at night. Given the proliferation and popularity of video games, Tik Tok videos and social media, parents should be excited to see their kids reading.
While a thorough review of the 33 books being challenged is underway, Superintendent Jeff James has expressed his concern that today’s students are much more likely to encounter pornographic material on their smart phones than they are in any I-SS school library.
“We definitely want to assure the public we do not purchase pornography,” James told the board earlier this month. “It does not exist” in I-SS school libraries, he added.
The superintendent said all parents should be cognizant of what books their children are reading and make sure the material is appropriate for their age and social-emotional development level.
The I-SS Board approved minor tweaks to the district’s book challenge policy earlier this week. Those changes give the superintendent and school board a larger role in these challenges. A committee appointed by the superintendent would review books in instances where a school committee’s decision is appealed.
In addition to supporting the policy revisions, the board demonstrated their support for the media specialists and principals who are dealing with nonsensical calls for book bans and false allegations about pornography in school libraries.
Board member Bill Howell made it clear that members of the public “do not have the right” to walk into an I-SS school and inspect books on the library shelves, as the Moms for Liberty representative requested last month.
And Chairman Todd Carver cautioned against caving into the complaints of those who have jumped on the book-banning bandwagon.
“We need to be careful with this,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope.”
The chairman also thanked the handful of media specialists who attended Committee of the Whole meeting earlier this month for their work.
“We’re going to get through this. What you do is important,” Carver said. “What you do is important for our children.”
The district will get through this if the I-SS Board continues to support its professional media specialists and principals — and refuses to give in to the demands of these fringe groups.
Mike Fuhrman is editor of Iredell Free News.