The Highland Park ISD board of trustees June 20 approved a policy change allowing parents or adult students to challenge optional materials, like library books.
Beginning in the 2023-2024 school year, parents will also be notified by email when their student checks out a library book. The district already had a challenge process in place for required instructional materials.
“An adult student student or parent or guardian of a currently enrolled district student may challenge a library material on the basis that the library material fails to meet the standards set forth in this policy. A parent or guardian shall be permitted to limit the ability for their child to checkout certain library materials by submitting the appropriate district-approved form,” the policy reads.
The policy states that district’s selection criteria for instructional materials, including library books, requires staff to: “ensure that resources:
- Support and are consistent with the general educational goals of the state and district and the aims and the aims and objectives of individual schools and specific courses consistent with the district and campus improvement plans.
- Meet high standards in presentation, format, readability, content, accuracy, artistic or literary quality, and educational significance.
- Are appropriate for the subject and for the age, ability level, learning styles, and social and emotional development of the students for whom they are selected.
- Are evaluated as a whole and selected for their strengths rather than rejected for their weaknesses. Literature selected shall not contain excessive or gratuitous explicit sexuality, excessive or gratuitous profanity, or excessive or gratuitous graphic violence. Selected resources shall not be masked, clipped, or altered in any manner inconsistent with the author’s intent.
- Are designed to provide information that will motivate students to examine their own attitudes and behavior, to understand their rights, duties, and responsibilities as citizens, and to make informed judgments in their daily lives.
- Provide balanced information on opposing sides of controversial issues, so that students may develop, under guidance, the skill of critical analysis.”
The policy also calls for district staff to, among other criteria similar to the above, select and acquire materials that “represent many ethnic, religious, and cultural groups and their contributions to the national heritage and world community” and states that the “district shall not remove resources from a library for the purpose of denying students access to ideas with which the district may disagree.”
New Deputy Superintendent Dr. Shorr Heathcote said there will be a separate form for reconsideration requests for library books and instructional materials. After the district receives a request, a committee including at least one member of instructional staff and a district-level director or coordinator serving as a facilitator (but not a voting member) will review the material and determine whether or not the challenged material will remain in the library collection.
Trustee Jae Ellis was the lone vote on the seven-member board against the policy change.
“The challenge we’re contemplating is completely removing these books from the collection,” Ellis said. “My comment to the board is if that’s what we’re contemplating, number one, I think we should say it, and number two, I’m not sure that’s what we really want. … It’s not what I want, but I’d love to hear what others think about the idea that a parent in the district can remove from the libraries books that other children would have had access to. Not their children, but others, when (the policy) clearly provides for parents the opportunity to prevent their own children from having access to books that our librarians and educators have decided are appropriate and useful for the purposes of public education.”
“It doesn’t remove the book. All it does is allow for a process by which the book can be subject to further scrutiny,” trustee Pete Flowers said. “A parent cannot just unilaterally say, ‘I don’t want this book.’ All it’s allowing them to do is say, ‘I want this book to be reconsidered,’ and then that is actually taken out of that parent’s hands.”
Trustee Doug Woodward said he thinks “there’s work to be done to define what the challenge is,” but supported the policy change.
“I am not interested in the wholesale elimination of books at libraries because they don’t agree with some elements, but I do think that’s covered in the policy,” Woodward said. “I do think there should be a venue for a member of our community to at least ask for a second opinion.”
“I fear that we’re creating a slippery slope if we allow parents to choose what books to remove from other people’s children’s access,” Ellis continued.
Trustee Blythe Koch added that required instructional materials in the district already had a similar opt-out option and were subject to challenge.
Board president Maryjane Bonfield said trustees plan to re-examine the district’s library collection and maintenance policies this fall, taking into account actions by the state legislature.
As of April, the district’s most recent formal request was an objection to Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges in 2022. The person who filed the objection said the book discussed LGBTQ+ children, serves as an “introduction to sexual confusion” and “(preys) on vulnerable children at school without parental knowledge.”
The American Library Association in March reported a record 1,269 challenges to library books and resources in 2022, nearly double the 729 challenges reported in 2021.
A record 2,571 unique titles were targeted for censorship, a 38% increase from the 1,858 unique titles targeted for censorship in 2021.
Of the reported book challenges, 58% targeted books and materials in school libraries, classroom libraries, or school curricula; 41% of book challenges targeted materials in public libraries.
“A book challenge is a demand to remove a book from a library’s collection so that no one else can read it. Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “Their aim is to suppress the voices of those traditionally excluded from our nation’s conversations, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community or people of color.”
In other news, the board:
- Approved the 2023-2024 budget. The budget estimates $216,000,528 in total revenue and $215,335,419 in total expenditures. Some highlights of the budget include a 5% staff pay raise and a 4% increase in non-payroll budgets. The district’s expected to receive certified taxable values from the Dallas County Appraisal District July 25 and take up the 2023-2024 tax rate Aug. 15.
- Approved the appointment of Kim Banuelos as the new principal at University Park Elementary School.