Parents of Powell students will have more input and librarians and administrators will have clearer decision making guidelines if a new policy regarding library books continues to move …
Parents of Powell students will have more input and librarians and administrators will have clearer decision making guidelines if a new policy regarding library books continues to move forward.
Following months of development in a special committee, Park County School District 1’s first reading of the revised selection and management of library materials policy was approved last Tuesday.
The changes come as a result of the standard review of the district’s Administrative Regulation/Operational Procedures. Special attention was paid to this policy because of increased focus on reading materials in schools in Powell and in other districts around the state and the country. Superintendent Jay Curtis told the school board on Tuesday that the current policy is inadequate and by his assumption decades old.
He added that outside of a committee meeting comments were given to him about removing transgender material. Curtis notified the board that this is “discrimination of viewpoint” and that material cannot be removed on this basis. This is supported under state law and the opinion of the school district’s attorney. If the material has explicit violence, sex and other obscenity it can be rated and evaluated accordingly but cannot be removed for having a different viewpoint.
The proposed version of the policy defines library materials as materials in a school or classroom library that are print, nonprint and electronic resources meant for the student to use independently from core class teaching. The policy draft includes content ratings that will be used when purchasing as well as reevaluating material. Library materials can also be restricted rather than removed, meaning that parental consent will be required in order for a student to check out certain items.
The policy also has a set of guidelines for selecting and maintaining materials that take into account user appeal, aesthetic, literary and artistic value and diversity of viewpoint among other criteria. Another focus of the policy is increased focus on parent involvement. Parents can restrict materials for their child and will be able to see what their child is checking out. A more specific review procedure allows the complainant to bring forth two people of their choice to join the committee along with three district staff members. A building principal will serve on the committee as tie breaker.
Books under microscope
Pending final approval of the new book policy, 10 books from the Powell High School library are being temporarily held but students can still access these books with parental permission. Curtis clarified for the board that a form has not been formally filed asking for reconsideration on these books. Following the incorporation of the policy the books will be evaluated using the 1-5 scale and may be restricted based on their content.
Notable books on this list include “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez, “Looking for Alaska” by John Green and “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson. These four books were chosen by the Tribune to review due to their presence on the American Library Association’s banned and challenged books list within the last 10 years.
Both “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Looking For Alaska” were read by the reporter in their entirety due to their adaptation into TV shows by Hulu, which could increase their popularity among high school students. “Out of Darkness” and “Speak” were reviewed utilizing book summaries posted on study guide websites Spark Notes and Super Summary. LitCharts, another study guide website, was used to look at themes in “Looking For Alaska,” but not to review the book as a whole.
Following the proposed content based rating scale of 1-5, “The Handmaid’s Tale” may fall under a 2 rating. Under this rating the book would be deemed potentially inappropriate for children under the age of 13. Books that fall under the 2 rating may feature moderate violence, moderate profanity, non-sexual nudity involving genitalia, inexplicit sexual nudity/sexual activities, drug or alcohol use, explicit sexuality and explicit gender ideologies. The book features little violence but references violence, there are references to explicit sexuality and a lesbian character and mild drug and alcohol use. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” analyzes a world in which women are delegated to certain roles including being surrogate mothers by a totalitarian government.
“Handmaid’s Tale” was published in 1985 but not acquired until 2018, a year after the premier of its popular television series. It’s been checked out three times since then.
Under the rating scale “Looking For Alaska” would most likely fall under a 3. Books in this category have excessive, explicit violence, excessive frequent profanity, references to sexual activities and drug or alcohol abuse. These books would require parental permission for students under 18. The book does not feature violence but does have some profanity along with references to sexual activities and some drug and alcohol abuse. When viewing the book in its entirety it is important to note that the book follows the maturing of high school students and explores death and grief. The one in-depth reference to sexual activity is not written to be enticing and both the sexual experience and drug and alcohol use are condemned by the main character at the end of the novel. LitCharts lists the book’s themes as “How to Live and Die,” “Mystery and the Unknown,” “Loyalty and Forgiveness,” “Memory and Memorial,” “Identity” and “Mischief.”
According to Powell High School, “Looking For Alaska” was purchased when it was published in 2005. According to the library’s records the book was not checked out for 10 years until it was named the most challenged book by the American Library Association in 2015. Upon receiving this title it was checked out 10 times.
The novel is loosely based on the author’s own experiences and is a Michael L. Printz Award recipient. This prestigious award is given to one newly published book each year with particular literary value to young adults. Green is also a founder and contributor to “Crash Course” educational videos that simplify history, literature and science lessons.
“Out of Darkness,” would most likely fall under a 3 for violence and sexual activities based on summary readings. The book does have historical value as it is a fictionalized story leading up to the New London, Texas, school explosion in the 1930s. It was acquired in 2016, a year after being published and has never been checked out.
Super Summary lists themes of the book as “social, physical and sexual vulnerability of women and girls,” as well as “the over and insidious dynamics of racism and colorism.”
“Speak” is about a high school student who was sexually assaulted by a peer. Based on summary readings the book does not go into graphic detail. Rather, it is about the student coming to terms with her assault and ultimately protecting other female students. While the subject material is intense the book would most likely fall under a 2 for moderate violence and explicit sexuality. The book critiques the sexualization of children and advocates for mental health and parent support. Spark Notes says that some themes include perception and expression.
Not most popular
Other books awaiting review under the new policy include: “Living Dead Girl” by Elizabeth Scott, “Breathless” by Jennifer Niven, “What Girls Are Made Of,” by Elana K. Arnold, “Nineteen Minutes,” by Jodi Picoult, “Crank,” by Ellen Hopkins and “Hopeless,” by Collen Hoover.
None of these 10 books are on Powell High School’s top-25 most popular books of the past 15 years which were checked out an average of 43 times. The number one book was “Eragon,” a fantasy novel written by Christopher Paolini which was checked out 66 times. The 25th most checked out book was “Thirteen Reasons Why,” by Jay Asher, a book revolving around a teen’s suicide, which was checked out 33 times.
The policy and accompanying material are currently available for board and public input until the next board meeting where it will enter approval for a second reading. If significant changes are included in the second reading it will be sent back out for a third and final reading. The policy as it is currently written can be viewed by visiting pcsd1.org and accessing the Feb. 14 meeting agenda through the electronic school board portal.