Planning is underway for the appointment of a committee that will advise the Amherst County School Board on a media selection policy to address concerns about sexually explicit content and educational materials in school libraries.
The board discussed a possible media selection policy at its July 28 business meeting. Abby Thompson, council chair, said she and council member Dawn Justice discussed concerns about the content of some library books earlier this spring, how to define what is inappropriate in content and what procedures to follow when reported.
Thompson said the conversation with administrative staff at Amherst County Public Schools was beneficial in educating board members about the policies in place and opportunities to strengthen them.
Deputy Superintendent Dana Norman said recently that a General Assembly law requires local school divisions to have a policy for dealing with sexually explicit content and educational materials. The Virginia Department of Education must develop a model policy by July 31 that will help guide local divisions on those decisions, she said.
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“It is now your requirement under the General Assembly that you adopt your policy no later than January 1,” Norman said.
Norman reviewed with the Board during the business meeting four divisional policies and suggestions for an overarching policy dealing with library media selection that defines what is considered obscene. School officials have discussed a potential book grading system, but have not made a decision on the details and will await a recommendation from the committee before the Jan. 1 deadline.
“I think a big part of it was tossing around ideas and options,” Thompson said. “It’s kind of a coming together of everything that’s been presented as a possibility.”
Thompson clarified during the discussion that the suggested policy is for conversation purposes and that feedback from school librarians will be considered before final decisions are made.
“We need to include our librarians,” Thompson said. “Their expertise is certainly remarkable and should be part of the conversation.”
Board member Priscilla Liggon said she thought the board needed to be careful and didn’t want to agitate everyone, adding that she liked peace.
“And the key to peace is that we don’t rush,” Liggon said.
“…It’s a team effort,” Thompson said. “And no one is trying to circumvent anyone. We greatly appreciate our librarians and the work they do and we are not about to sit here and make their job impossible.
Superintendent William Wells said the Amherst school librarians had been told the board was in preliminary discussion of a new policy and that their input would be part of the upcoming discussion.
“I feel like we’re ahead of the game,” Thompson said of the information librarians have already provided ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline.
Board member Ginger Burg said she doesn’t want to overburden school librarians.
“They’ve got enough on their plate,” Burg said.
She said she hoped for a policy that “reflects Amherst and shows more confidence in our librarians.”
Amherst school officials reviewed the Roanoke County policy as part of its preliminary review, and Thompson said there was no magic bullet.
The committee, which the board is expected to appoint in August, can have up to 15 members. Wells recommends an elementary, middle, and high school librarian, a director for each of those levels, and an English teacher.
“We need a number we can work with, but we still want representation on the committee,” Wells said.
Norman says a parent representative is definitely needed on the committee. “I think it’s important,” she said.
Wells said once the committee is up and running, a first reading of a new policy is expected to be presented to the board in November with adoption scheduled for its December meeting.
“Once we get the state policy, we can start streamlining our approach,” Wells said.
The judge said she looks forward to what the librarians and the committee will come up with. Thompson emphasized that the dialogue should be done in a way that librarians know they are valued.
“Their jobs are demanding and we understand that,” she said.
The board approved increases for adult meals this school year, with lunch going from $3.85 to $4 and adult breakfast going from $2.30 to $2.35. Student meals remain free.