The Central Bucks School District is set to adopt the controversial 109.2 library policy, despite overwhelming concerns expressed by parents, students, teachers, Central Bucks librarians, the NAACP, PFLAG, Pennsylvania School Library Association, the Education Law Center, the ACLU of PA, and the 59 organizations within the National Coalition Against Censorship, not counting the more than 3,000 signatories of a local petition opposing it.
The policy is described by many as a book ban. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, notes that this policy “is not intended to develop a strong collection that meets a wide variety of reader needs,” but rather restricts the books “based on a very vague description of [implied] sexual content. If passed, the CBSD will likely house the most restrictive library policy in the state.
A policy that elicited such strong and consistent responses undoubtedly deserves the lion’s share of the discussion at Tuesday night’s school board meeting.
But just for a moment, I’d like to draw your attention to this Tuesday’s agenda item 14C, tucked away quietly after the proposed approval of college volleyball.
CBSD’s June 2022 communications proposal would ask the district to hire a Philadelphia-based public relations firm (at a cost of $15,000/month) to teach the administration how to “rebuild the bank of goodwill within the CBSD community as a whole so that future changes can be managed from a solid base.
The emphasis is on the voice of students and the strength of faculty in serving their educational needs. Here are some words or expressions used by graduates to describe their favorite teachers: “love of learning”, “open-mindedness”, “authenticity”, “kindness”, “teaching critical thinking and leadership”.
Everyone loves a good story, says this brilliant PR pitch. So let me tell you one.
It was a cold evening on February 9, ,2022, when K-12 District Library Coordinator Melissa Burger demonstrated her professional expertise by giving a thoughtful presentation on how our school libraries build their collections, then made recommendations based on her years of experience (don’t take my word for it, read this for yourself). At the core of his proposal was inclusion, “unfettered by personal, political, social, or religious opinion,” guided by the National Standards of the American Association of School Librarians and rooted in professional and ethical responsibility.
Imagine a book selection policy that:
1. Meets the needs of a wide range of students of varying abilities.
2. Evaluates relevance to intended audience using reputable and unbiased professional journals and journals.
3. Evaluates accurate content, based on author, organization, and publisher authority.
4. Reflects the pluralistic nature of a global society with diverse backgrounds and cultures.
5. Recognizes that an individual may select or reject books for his/her child(ren), but must not censor or restrict this freedom for all others
6. Includes a transparent and thorough review process (including the librarian’s quintessential request to read the entire work and provide an abstract).
Imagine a book policy that stays true to the idea that “the freedom to read and learn is an additive, not a subtractive process” and that is curated by the deep expertise of our own district’s librarians and teachers.
Now, this is where the story takes a dark turn because Library 109.2 policy due to pass tomorrow is…not that. It’s one that focuses massively on “avoiding inappropriate materials”, defined loosely and broadly for the greatest confusion. This is the one where banning books will be turned into “stopping grooming” or “removing pornography.” It’s an intention to create a mirage of “parental choice”, when the real goal is erasure and censorship because – it’s just CERTAIN choices and CERTAIN parents and CERTAIN families. But to clarify the mental gymnastics going on through all these code words – the idea is and always has been to either ban the books outright or remove them from the selection process altogether through the infinitely more dangerous “soft and silent self-censorship”. Make it hard for tired, harassed and focused educators and librarians to choose a collection because they now have to ask, in a school district of 18,000 students and families, “who’s going to complain,” not “who needs this.” ?
Everyone loves a good story, right?
So let me end mine here: Superintendent and Majority of the School Board, if you want to convince us that “Inclusive standards, values and the commitment behind them are permanent characteristics of CBSD and its employees” , as this PR firm encourages, so really align your policies with this North Star. If you want to re-emphasize those who are on the good work of faculty and staff, actually listen to the educators who have repeatedly raised valid concerns about Policy 109.2. Instead of deflecting the fallout of your divisive policies as “controversies that come and go,” think about the deeper issues affecting this diverse community of nearly 18,000 students.
Because the reasons families like mine move to the district and the reasons teachers choose to work in Central Bucks—those standards, those inclusive values, and those accomplishments that you want so badly to promote—we stand to lose it all.