BEDFORD — After reviewing 11 disputed books found in select school libraries in the Bedford County public school system, BCPS administrators and book review boards have made the decision not to remove any of the disputed titles from school libraries.
At the November school board meeting, some parents called for certain book titles to be removed from public school libraries, citing what one parent — Amy Snead, with the group Moms for Liberty — called “regarding” content such as LGBTQ+ representation, sexual language and substance use. Most of the challenged books are written by authors of color or LGBTQ+ people.
In response to the book challenges, BCPS staff reviewed inventory of libraries in district high schools and found 11 of the titles among high school libraries. In accordance with the schools’ book review policies, committees consisting of the school’s media specialist/librarian, the secondary school principal, and any teacher who has used a disputed book as part of their studies, like Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” which is part of an advanced English course — and program and instructional director Shawn Trosper has reviewed each book. In all 11 cases, Trosper said, the committees unanimously recommended retaining the titles in school libraries, seeing no need to remove them.
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Regarding the classroom use of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Trosper said, “The committee felt it had educational value,” and the title is on the AP list of books to use.
BCPS staff reiterated the KLB policy, the process by which affected parents or guardians can ask their students not to have access to a certain book.
The policy has been updated with minor language revisions for clarification, staff said, and the online form for filing a complaint has also been updated to be more user-friendly.
If a parent or guardian wishes their student not to access a certain book, staff said school librarians will comply with the parent’s request and not allow the student to view the book in question. If a book of concern was used as part of a classroom curriculum, individual parents or guardians can work with teachers to try to find an alternative that would still meet the requirements and standards of the classroom.
Despite a statement by Snead in November that the push to remove certain books does not promote censorship, BCPS staff said otherwise.
“Parents have the ability to set restrictions for their children, but not for all children,” staff said during a presentation. “Any removal or prohibited access to a book based on an individual’s disagreement with his or her political, religious or moral point of view is a form of censorship.”
National libraries and anti-censorship organizations have also spoken out against attempts to censor disputed books.
District 4 Representative Marcus Hill, who favored removing the disputed books from school library shelves, said Thursday he had a ‘problem’ with members of book review committees, accusing them of being biased since they work for schools and share school administrators. ‘ and saying that librarians and teachers had a ‘direct interest’ in keeping the titles.
District 1 Representative Susan Mele, however, said the policy as it stands provides common ground and protects everyone’s rights.
“If you say, ‘Well, we’ll put it behind the counter, or we’ll just take it away,’ then you’ve violated the rights of parents who want their children to read the book. If you say, ‘You have to read this book,” then you’ve violated the rights of the parent who doesn’t want it. I think we have common ground here. If you don’t want your child to read it, they won’t get it from us. If you want your child to have access to any title, you have that right too,” she said.
Trosper also pointed out that schools must also consider the risk of lawsuits. Removing books that offered diverse stories and perspectives, particularly regarding transgender people and other members of the LGBTQ+ community, could be considered discrimination and could result in lawsuits against schools. Since books in public school systems are reviewed and approved by a committee at the state level of Virginia, these legal factors come into play.
Trosper said that in the future, when committees review a contested book, he would like high school students to be part of the panel because their perspective and input is valuable.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, Randy Hagler, district chief financial officer, shared several budget highlights for the upcoming fiscal year. The proposed budget of approximately $132.6 million will be fine-tuned in detail at a school board budget working session next week.
Priorities for this budget include a minimum 4% wage increase for educators and support staff within the Bedford County Public Schools system, following the results of a salary study that showed that wages lagged behind market rates; accelerate unfinished learning due to lost opportunities for some students during the pandemic; expanding college career and workforce development opportunities; and promoting equitable educational opportunities for all county high school students, especially in AP classes.