Central Bucks School District seems to always be in the news, even nationally, but always for the wrong reasons. If a draft library policy overhaul passes without significant changes, this troubling trend and the district’s diminishing reputation will continue.
I asked Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, to take a look at the policy and spoke with her afterwards.
She is concerned.
“This seems more designed to exclude, rather than include, and narrow education rather than broaden it or to create better opportunities for education through the library,” said Caldwell-Stone. “Based on the criteria of this policy it would make it easier to remove books from the library.”
The way the selection process criteria is written, any individual board member can block a book from being added to the library. This would put too much power potentially in the hands of someone untrained and unqualified to determine what is appropriate for a school library. Never mind the far-right ideological bent of some board members, three of whom were endorsed by a local Three Percent militia cell – and didn’t think it necessary to reject the endorsement.
“By having an entire section that talks about in very vague terms sexualized content it appears to me that you may be excluding a broad range of works that serve the needs of students,” said Caldwell-Stone.
We’ve already seen and heard parents in past meetings cherry pick passages in books like Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” in an attempt to whip people into a mass, puritanical hysteria and suggest children are being targeted for “grooming” by such books.
“The District recognizes that parents hold an essential role in the education of their children and have the right to guide what their children read,” the proposed policy states.
But one parent’s choices must not infringe on another’s. It’s obvious that books have already been compiled by some parents and this policy could be the match to set them ablaze.
There is a simple fix if reason prevails.
“Trust the professional authority of educators and librarians who have been trained for years on how to identify appropriate works based on the age and developmental needs of the students they serve,” said Caldwell-Stone.
We live in troubling times when this common sense idea is seemingly controversial.
CBSD parent Jennifer Bish of Furlong shared a statement with me that she was prepared to read at Wednesday night’s policy meeting before public comment got cut short and she was robbed of the opportunity.
“This policy was modeled off of a Texas policy, the state with the highest number of book bans across the country. Though a significant portion of the language found in the Texas policy is included in the policy proposal for Central Bucks, the language in the Texas policy that refers to the selection of literature that ‘meets high standards in literary, artistic, and aesthetic quality’ is not included, nor is the recommendation that selection be based off of ‘favorable reviews in standard reviewing sources and favorable recommendations based on preview and examination of materials by professional personnel,’” the statement reads. “This begs the question, why is literary merit exempted from the criteria for selecting library books in the proposed policy for Central Bucks if the policy is designed to provide students with the best possible literature and if the decision is based on the best interest of our students?”
Pennsylvania has the second highest number of book bans according to the April PEN America report. If this policy passes as is, we could leapfrog to number one for next year.
According to the policy draft, “Specific library material that has withstood the formal challenge process and remains in the library will not be reconsidered within one year of final determination, and any material removed will not be eligible for consideration to be added again for at least 10 years.”
A blitzkrieg of de facto book bans could disappear resources for almost all of a child’s time in the school district.
The ALA’s Caldwell-Stone, who has seen this type of activity throughout the 22 years she has worked for the oldest and largest library association in the world, said there’s been a wave of censorship across the country in the last six months and that it has been led by groups like Moms for Liberty and No Left Turn. Locally we host one of their monstrous offspring, Woke PA, which local parents are involved in.
These groups “seem to be primarily concerned with removing books dealing with gender identity, sexual orientation from the hands of young people, as well as books dealing with the lived experiences of Black Persons and different perspectives on American history regarding race, racism, and slavery,” she added.
The draft library policy notes that “for non-fiction resources, incorporate accurate and authentic factual content.” But with the whole anti-Critical Race Theory neo-McCarthyism weaponized by the right, we know some people think any book that challenges white supremacy or more jingoistic versions of U.S. history aren’t “authentic” in their eyes.
If this campaign is successful locally, the result will be that some children will no longer see themselves and their lives reflected in books on their school library shelves. And everyone loses from this.
“By narrowing education and by setting topics off limits for consideration and debate you’re creating students who are less able to engage effectively with controversial topics, who are less prepared for higher education, and may not be as prepared to function as citizens in a democratic society, to engage in civil discourse, and become engaged citizens,” said Caldwell-Stone.
Central Bucks School District should be striving for the exact opposite of this. If the majority of the school board and Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh don’t want to right this proposed wrong, parents, teachers and students need to make some noise.
The ALA’s United Against Book Bans campaign is one place you can go to for effective ways to start.