Do board members want to approve every book in the library?

TEA’s proposed policy for the selection of library materials calls for the school board to vote on the selection of every single book or digital item added to the school library.  It also would require the library supervisor or a designee to read, review and recommend every single item.  Are we supposed to interpret that literally?  When it says “read” does that mean the entire book? 

The policy is heavy on transparency and parent involvement, and omits the language that is in most district’s current policies about how school libraries should “present multiple viewpoints related to controversial issues” and “represent many ethnic, religious, and cultural groups and their contributions to the national heritage and world community.” The TEA proposal leaves all that out. 

With regard to a challenge to a book in the library the Agency’s proposed policy is similar to Policy EF (Local) as adopted by most districts. It calls for an informal conference, and then a formal challenge that goes to an appointed “reconsideration committee.” So with regard to challenges to a book, this policy is not a lot different from what most districts currently have.

But it’s radically different with regard to the acquisition of materials. It says:

The board will provide final approval for all new materials added to the library.

The librarian would be required to provide a list of every single new item to be acquired. This list must be shared with the board members at least 30 days prior to board action to approve the list. The list of materials must be on the board’s agenda, and each board member is to be afforded the opportunity to explain why they believe a particular item should not be included. Then there will be a record vote of the board members. 

So if four of seven board members do not want a certain book to be acquired, it won’t be. 

Existing policy in most districts says that “The Board shall rely on professional staff to select and acquire instructional resources.”  (EF Local).   TEA’s policy demotes the professional staff to an advisory function, while giving control to the members of the school board.  Will your school board want to do that?  Is that a good idea?

There are other ways of ensuring transparency and parental guidance.  At least one district I know of is exploring a method by which parents will be e-notified of any book or other material the student checks out of the school library.  District policy can certainly allow for parents to block their children’s access to certain materials, at least while their children are minors.  

The staff at TASB is reviewing the proposed policy and promises to offer districts some alternatives.  Look for that somewhere around May 16.  Boards would be wise to take their time considering this issue.  Take a look at the TEA proposal; take a look at what you get from TASB. Remember that it’s your district’s policy and the board is not required to adopt verbatim any of the policies that are offered for the board’s consideration.

As your district considers this issue, it also would be a good idea to check in with legal counsel. The lawyers at Walsh Gallegos have been talking about this issue, and will be ready to help you do what is best for your district.


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Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!