Volusia County Schools outlines the library book verification process; parents choose the level of access

As the Volusia County School Board was presented Tuesday, August 30, with the updated procedure on how to verify books in school libraries, navigate the process in case a book is challenged later, and how all three levels of student book access — unlimited, limited access, and no book access — will work, school board member Ruben Colon asked, “How the hell do you enforce that?”

“How can a media scientist stop a sixth grader from reaching for this book, sitting down and reading it when his parent said he couldn’t read it?” said Colon. “…In the end, all it will take is one parent to say, ‘I don’t want my child to have access to this,’ and now they’ll pull the book and they’ll go there. go pull the book and say, ‘Look what I read.'”

The public “will drag this media center through the mud,” Colon said.

With new laws restricting library book content for students taking effect July 1, school districts across the state have until June 30, 2023 to come into compliance. For schools in Volusia County, this means new training for media specialists on purchasing new books after January 1, 2023, providing access to any member of the community wishing to review books or educational materials, and submitting a list of materials at the Florida Department of Education as of June 2023 that have been challenged, removed, or discontinued, among other new proceedings.

The district already had a challenge process in place; The district updated it to comply with new laws.

Although Kristine Smith, a specialist in the district’s media services and educational materials division, said concerns are often first attempted to be resolved through conversation.

“A lot of concerns from our parenting community are being addressed before the dispute process is ever necessary,” Smith said. “If a parent has a concern about the library, the school media specialist will often find a mutually agreeable solution.”

But if a solution is not agreed upon, the formal dispute process includes filing documents and a meeting of the School Media Advisory Committee to evaluate the material and make a decision, which will be provided to the complainant in writing. If the individual is not satisfied with the outcome, then a request is made for a district-level committee to meet, and the superintendent will decide whether the decision of the school committee stands or passes to the committee. at the district level. Then, within 15 working days of the district committee’s report, based on the district’s submission, the superintendent will make the final decision and provide it to the person in writing.

“I see a very bleak future. Because I think what we do in education to ensure student success and student problem solving, students have to be able to choose. How do they know what to choose if they don’t know what they like or dislike?”

Linda Cuthbert, School Board Member

When asked to clarify the procedure by Colon, who questioned whether the book would remain on the shelf or available to students while it was challenged, Assistant Superintendent Rachel Hazel cited a recent example where a book was brought to Colon’s attention for removal (the book title was not disclosed at the meeting). Hazel explained that the district first looks at how many media centers have a copy and how many times the book has been checked out. In this example, she said the book was only in one media center and hadn’t been checked out in over two and a half years.

Media specialists reviewed the book and removed it.

“We have a list of books that have come to our attention that we’re going through and watching and seeing, and there will be some that will be taken down immediately, and there will probably be some that will probably go through that process” , said Hazel.

Additionally, an unsubscribe link will be available in September, where parents will be allowed to choose an option for the level of access their student can have to library materials. If parents choose the “limited” option, school staff will seek further clarification. If the parent chooses “no access”, the student will not be able to borrow books from the school library. For middle schoolers looking to experience young adult fiction, the district’s pre-existing release form will still need to be signed even if they choose the “unlimited” option.

“I see a very bleak future,” said school board member Linda Cuthbert. “Because I think what we do in education to ensure student success and student problem solving, students need to be able to choose. How do they know what to choose if they don’t know what they like or dislike?”

“I have great confidence in our system. There will be parents for whatever reason who can object to something that is on the shelf, clearly. You’re going to have over 90% of parents going say, ‘I have no problem with this book. It’s been there. It’s good.'”

Carl Persis, School Board Member

She was also concerned, as a former English teacher, about teachers wanting to add extra reading as homework to enrich their curriculum and the barriers they might face in doing so. She hopes that further clarifications will come from the DOE in the future.

Colon doubted that such a leadership of the state would come. He insisted on having a process in place to protect teachers who use extra materials to teach their lessons, especially in AP and other advanced grades, and prevent them from suffering public backlash.

School board member Carl Persis said that during his tenure as principal, he only had one book go through the district’s challenge process in 1989 because of a profanity-filled line of dialogue. And in the end, the superintendent decided that the book should stay on the shelf. He said he doesn’t anticipate any major changes to the process and that state law may have just made it official.

“I have great confidence in our system,” Persis said. “…There’s going to be parents for whatever reason who may object to something that’s on the shelf, clearly. You’re going to have over 90% of parents who are going to say ‘I don’t have no problem with this book. It’s been there. Parents are more upset about a parent dictating what their child can read than objecting to what’s on the shelf, so as long as we have this open process…we seem to be making it all work.”

Colin L. Johnson