Central Bucks endorses contentious libraries policy targeting ‘sexualized content’ in books amid community opposition

Facing stiff community opposition, the Central Bucks School District on Tuesday approved a library litigation policy which aims to challenge books with ‘sexualized content’ – district superintendent’s guidelines ensure students read ‘age-appropriate material’ but which the Pennsylvania Library Association calls one of the most restrictive in schools across the country ‘State.

In a 6-3 vote, after a rally and Over an hour of public comments – most of which vehemently opposed the policy – ​​and questions from some council members about its origins, the Republican-dominated council voted to push forward the policy that rang l alarm among civil rights groups.

Members Tabitha Dell’Angelo, Karen Smith and Miriam Mahmud voted against approving the policy, insisting that community resistance should cause them to drop the vote, and question the details of the policy – ​​including who wrote it, and ask for more details about the process in which a superintendent-appointed committee will weigh literature to be selected or removed from the shelves of the school.

Board Chairman Dana Hunter, Vice Chairman Leigh Vlasblom and members Sharon Collopy, Jim Pepper, Lisa Sciscio and Debra T. Cannon voted in favor of the policy, saying they would leave it to Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh to develop a committee and establish parameters. to find out how books can be selected.

“There just comes a time when we allow Dr. Lucabaugh and our administration, who we trust and respect the work they do, to bring together a group to come up with a process that they will share with us,” said Vlasblom. , urging council to adopt the policy.

Holding signs that read “dictators ban books, not democracies” and “love not hate makes CB great,” dozens of parents, students, community members, educators and advocates rallied outside Doylestown School District headquarters on Tuesday night ahead of the vote, calling for the board to rescind the policy. Many repeated their remarks during public comments before the school board. Only a few speakers expressed their approval of the policy.

“It’s not a ban, it’s not censorship, it’s common sense,” said a mother, who said she was “against the exposure of minors to sexually explicit content”.

Speakers who objected to library protocol called it intentionally vague, and asked the district to let trained librarians — rather than a “small group of parents” — select literature for school libraries. More than 3,000 community members have signed a petition against the proposal.

Karen Downer, president of the Bucks County branch of the NAACP, noted that the books most frequently flagged for sexual content “tend to include certain themes,” including black history, LGBTQ subjects or characters, race and racism. Books are also often written by marginalized authors, she said.

Lucabaugh – a champion of the Politics – said in an interview on Monday that the intention is not to remove books from school libraries, but to create a selection process for new materials and for parents to challenge “gratuitous, salacious, exaggerated, unnecessary, sexualized content [in library books] it wouldn’t be age appropriate.

He did not list specific books that might fall into this category.

“We don’t have titles in mind, per se,” Lucabaugh said. “The policy is rooted in the prioritization and selection of age-appropriate materials for our students that align with curriculum and materials that reflect the diversity of our student experiences. We believe it is very important that… all of our students are represented in the things they read at the library.

The Language introduced by Bucks County The district school board in May is calling for more control from parents to challenge books available in school libraries and stresses that at all levels, “no material … shall contain visual or visually implied representations of ‘sex acts’ or “explicit written descriptions of sex acts.”

Lucabaugh said he will appoint a handful of administrators, teachers, librarians and other education professionals to develop a process for parents to challenge reading material and guidelines to determine what may be considered “free and age-inappropriate content” when selecting school library books. .

This committee, Lucabaugh said, “would be large enough to include multiple perspectives” and would “eliminate the possibility of any decision being made in isolation.” He said school board members would not be directly involved in the selection or removal of books.

But speaking to the crowd outside the board meeting on Tuesday, a retired English teacher said the policy “is vague enough that librarians don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“There is no transparency and there is no recourse when a book is banned,” said Julie Zaebst, senior policy attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, adding that she had heard from some teachers already fearful of the repercussions of politics.

“We know that all students suffer when the expertise of professionals is replaced by a grand politicized process that takes place behind closed doors,” she said.

Lucabaugh and school board officials said the policy was introduced because the school district — the third-largest in Pennsylvania — did not have one in place.

But Christi Buker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association, which represents libraries statewide, said Central Bucks’ proposal stands out.

“It’s a pretty restrictive policy,” Buker said. “We haven’t seen this level of proposal in other school districts yet.”

Although Lucabaugh and school board officials say the policy is a not book banBuker disagreed.

“It bans books, based on a specific aspect, and does not consider any other value of that document,” she said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board member Karen Smith echoed Buker’s sentiments.

“The policy clearly allows books to be removed from our libraries,” she said. “When something is deleted and not allowed to come back, that’s a ban.”

“The policy is vague and overly broad,” said ACLU attorney Richard T. Ting.

“We also talk about library books, … non-compulsory reading for class work. These are just books in the library that are there for students, and students should be free to choose what they read. Families should also be able to discuss these things with their children. It shouldn’t be up to a few people… to decide what everyone has access to.

Lucabaugh countered that “it may not be required reading, but access to [the books] is still there.

“School districts have always established and maintained policies and boundaries around content ownership,” he said.

In a district-wide message to parents last weekLucabaugh and school board chairman Dana Hunter said the policy has been “misinterpreted within our community and the press,” writing that every student “deserves to be seen, heard, cared for, included, accepted , respected, loved and, most importantly, educated.

The letter also said that any books containing “sexual content” would not be subject to removal from libraries.

“Books such as ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison, which chronicles the real horror of racism and sexual abuse, belong in our school libraries on an age-appropriate level,” said they wrote. “The same goes for classics like ‘The Scarlet Letter’ or an illustrated anatomy reference book.”

The post, Ting said, “ironically highlights the problem with this kind of politics.

“Like, why can they say that and make that decision?”

Central Bucks Library’s proposed policy comes as book bans across the country have increased – as well as an emphasis on content involving LGBTQ characters and stories. Some conservative politicians and activists have accused public schools of “indoctrinating” students on issues of gender and sexuality.

READ MORE: Amid national challenges to sexually explicit books, West Chester School District keeps ‘Gender Queer’ going

The library’s policy follows other policy changes at Central Bucks, including the district’s call to remove pride flags from classrooms and move its sex ed classes online after facing a backlash for asking transgender and non-binary students to attend classes that match their sex assigned at birth.

“It’s not very difficult to relate this policy to these other school district actions that have a clear anti-LGBQ and T bias,” Zaebst said, adding that the ACLU was watching “very closely.” district actions.

On Monday, Lucabaugh said Central Bucks’ proposed policy “is not based on any genre of literature” or target audience. If a book containing LGBTQ characters or plot is deemed by the committee to be “gratuitous and overly sensationalized,” it should be replaced “with a comparable book…for an LGBTQ audience,” he said. If a comparable reading cannot be found by the committee, Lucabaugh said, a disputed book may remain on library shelves.

“No book made me transgender, just like no book turned my eyes from brown to blue,” Central Bucks East student Lilly Freeman said Tuesday. “Schools are a place of learning, and when you remove access to various books, it removes safe public resources for children like me to see themselves in the culture, to learn about themselves.”

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