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bedford county public schools

Bedford school libraries to offer alerts to parents on what students check out

In response to recent concerns from some Bedford County parents who challenged certain books in their students’ public school libraries, BCPS staff unveiled a plan for updated library services that will help parents and guardians stay informed about what their children are reading.

“Our parents are our best allies. We want to work with everyone,” said Karen Woodford, chief learning officer of BCPS.

Starting this fall, parents will receive automatic email notifications when their student checks out a book from their school library. An opt-out option also will be available for this feature.

The school library website will have links to book reviews and synopses to offer more information on specific titles. The informational book websites were not created or endorsed by BCPS, Woodford said. They will simply be suggested resources where parents can see a synopsis and/or review of different books. Guest access to secondary library content also would be available.

Additionally, secondary classroom texts — the book list approved for supplemental classroom use in grades six through 12 — will be listed on each teacher’s syllabus, and a letter of notification related to the title would be sent to parents to sign, confirming they are aware of books their student may read.

BCPS superintendent Marc Bergin was enthusiastic about the library service updates and helping parents and guardians feel better informed. He encouraged parents and guardians to read books with their students, and discuss them together.

“A child’s first and best teacher is their parent, and they should be aware of what their child is reading,” Bergin said.

Policy KLB is slated for a few revisions as well. BCPS staff presented the recommended revisions last Thursday, and the school board is expected to vote on them in August.

Policy KLB is the way a concerned parent or guardian can file a public complaint about a specific book with a public school library, or request their student read an alternative book for secondary reading in a class.

The complaint form is found on the school website and recently was updated to be more user-friendly.

The long-standing BCPS procedure for challenged books allows concerned parents to file a written or verbal complaint with the library media specialist or, if the book is part of classroom use, the teacher. The appropriate party then works with the family regarding their concerns, and the library media specialist will consult with the school principal and other appropriate school administrators.

The challenged material remains in use during the process, and depending on the outcome may or may not be restricted. A committee consisting of the library media specialist, the school’s principal, school board office staff, concerned parent(s) and any other appropriate party meets to make a final decision. If the complainant disagrees with the decision, they can appeal it to the superintendent or their designee, and finally to the school board.

Only one book may be challenged at a time, according to Policy KLB.

Introducing proposed policy updates last Thursday, Bergin said a concerned parent should first speak directly to the school librarian about a complaint with a book. If unsatisfied with this conversation, the parent should then go to the school’s principal, who would subsequently speak with the librarian about the issue. If the librarian and principal both agree the challenged book should remain available, the concerned parent would then fill out a complaint form online.

A review committee would form to include parents from all three high school zones, at least one library media specialist from a different library, teachers from all three school zones, students from all 3 zones, a community member unconnected to schools, the concerned parent and one school board member.

The committee members would all read the challenged book together — “like a book club,” Bergin said — and have open, honest discussion about topics that might be concerning before making a final recommendation on whether or not to keep the book available for other students.

If the challenged book remains in circulation after committee review, the concerned parent can request the librarian not let their child access the title. This way, staff said, other students and parents are not deprived of a resource and are free to make their own personal decisions about what they read, and the concerned parent does not have to worry about their child getting a copy of a certain book.

Separately, a new committee was proposed for situations where a teacher wishes to use a book not on the pre-approved list of titles for a class. On a case-by-case basis, the committee for secondary reading materials would recommend approval or denial of the book in question for classroom use, evaluating it for its educational value.

This committee would consist of similar individuals to the Policy KLB review committee, according to BCPS’s initial plans, as well as the division’s supervisor of reading, possibly a reading specialist, and other teachers of similar curriculums from all three zones.

The board briefly discussed who they would like to see on this secondary book review committee.

District 4 representative Marcus Hill said he wanted a parent involved in this committee, just as with the KLB review committee.

District 5 representative Georgia Hairston agreed parental representation was important, and recommended having the president, or another executive member, of the PTA serve on this committee since they are constantly communicating with parents throughout Bedford County and are most in tune to parental concerns and thoughts, gathering and sharing parent feedback. A PTA representative would provide “consistency,” she said. Hill pushed back against this suggestion, saying the board could not take away parents’ involvement, and the PTA president did “not represent all parents.”

District 1 representative Susan Mele pointed out this committee, as usual, would have to be limited in size. She thought a PTA executive would be a good idea for parent representation.

Policy KLB got more attention last fall following the November 2021 school board meeting where some parents called for the removal of certain book titles in public school libraries, citing what one parent — Amy Snead, with the group Moms for Liberty — called “concerning” content such as LGBTQ+ representation, sexual language and substance use. Most of the challenged books are written by authors of color or LGBTQ+ individuals.

In response to the book challenges, BCPS staff reviewed library inventory in district high schools and found 11 of the titles among high school libraries. In compliance with the schools’ book review policies, the Policy KLB review committee analyzed each book. In all 11 cases, Shawn Trosper, director of curriculum and instruction, said the committee unanimously recommended keeping the titles in school libraries.

“Parents have the ability to set restrictions for their children, but not all children,” staff stated in a subsequent presentation. “Any removal or prohibited access to a book based on some individual’s disagreement with its political, religious, or moral viewpoint is a form of censorship.”

Woodford added removing books that offered diverse stories and perspectives, particularly regarding transgender individuals and other members of the LGBTQ+ community, could be seen as discrimination and result in the schools being sued. Since books in public school systems are reviewed and approved by a committee at the Virginia state level, these legal factors come into play.

The proposed new secondary materials review committee and other details still are in brainstorming stages, with more conversations and planning to come before anything is solidified.

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