More censorship on the horizon, but rooted in politics
A new district-wide policy for library book selection was officially released on Tuesday, April 10.
The policy would allow the school board to decide which books are placed in all district libraries and allow the board to remove books already in libraries.
If a book is removed from the library, it will not be reviewed for at least 10 years.
The policy states that “materials selection is an ongoing process that includes removal of collections deemed by the board or district library supervisor or person designated by the superintendent to be no longer appropriate and replacement or periodic repair of documents still of educational value. ”
Much of the policy focuses on describing material that is considered “inappropriate”. For middle and high schools, this means “explicit written descriptions of sexual acts”. For elementary schools, “explicit or implicit written descriptions of sexual acts”.
Maura McInerny, legal director of the Education Law Center, said the policy violates the First Amendment right to free speech. She said ELC is reviewing the policy and informing parents in the district of their rights.
“While some limitations are constitutionally permitted, that’s not what happens when students are told they can’t borrow books from school because they haven’t been ‘approved.’ McInerny said.
Pennsylvania schools have banned books more than 450 times in the past nine months, according to a new report from PEN America. It is the second highest total in the United States, behind Texas.
“What we’re seeing in Pennsylvania is a purge,” McInerny said.
Kate Nazemi is a mother of two students in the district and has been opposing the new policy for months.
“The target is LGBTQ [literature] because in a lot of young adult literature about it, it’s about relationships and identity,” Nazemi said. “And you have to talk about body parts and people having relationships if you want to talk about this experience. So it’s a safe way to get rid of all those pounds.
The parents of Central Bucks have been reading passages from books they have wanted removed from libraries since March. All of the books are listed on the WokePa website, including many by black and LGBTQ authors, including Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”
District teachers, librarians and parents appeared at Wednesday’s school board meeting for their policy committee, to voice their opposition to the project.
Katherine Semisch, a retired English teacher from Central Bucks West High School, said the proposed policy puts a “chokehold” on new books, in part because it requires the school board to read all books before approval.
“The proposed policy promotes content removal over content inclusion,” Semisch said.
“Is it the school’s job to edit the world, to prevent children from learning the truth?”
She listed books like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Romeo and Juliet and parts of the Bible as works that would not be eligible for libraries under the policy.
Many are concerned about the lack of transparency on the board.
Chris Kehan is one of Warwick Primary School’s librarians.
“When was this written? Who wrote it? Who was used? It was obviously cut and pasted from something else,” Warwick said.
The Bucks County Beacon recently reported that the policy was mostly a copy of a policy of the Texas Education Agency.
Laura Ward, president of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, said she had never seen such a policy before in Pennsylvania.
She said, “It’s heartbreaking,” especially for vulnerable students.
“If we remove things that reflect them, we’re telling them that we don’t value them, we don’t see them, we don’t want to hear them,” Ward said.
Due to widespread moves toward censorship in Pennsylvania, the PSLA recently formed an Intellectual Freedom Task Force, to support any librarian facing censorship threats.