Books

Hempfield school board to continue discussion of books available to high school students

The Hempfield Area School Board will discuss next month tweaking a policy related to reevaluating course materials.

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It’s part of a monthslong conversation that stems from the challenging of two books available to high school students.

The board’s policy committee on Wednesday decided not to move forward with any immediate changes to the policy that determines how school materials are reevaluated if questioned by a parent. This is the second time the committee deferred immediate changes to allow for further input.

Board members will meet June 20 in the high school library to discuss proposed changes to the policy. Possible changes include adding more community members to the makeup of a committee that evaluates challenge materials and implements an appeals process.

“I, personally, don’t think this policy works right,” said board President Tony Bombiani, “and I think that all board members need to give input so that we all know how we can maybe make it better.”

Over the past several months chronicled, a small group of parents have questioned “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M. Johnson, whichles Johnson’s journey growing up as a queer black boy. Parents also questioned “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person” by Frederick Joseph, which reflects the author’s experiences with racism.

A formal complaint was filed against the books, both of which went through the review process laid out in the policy.

It was determined the books could remain available to students.

As the policy stands, a school district resident can formally request the reevaluation of instructional or resource materials in the district’s library or classrooms. During informal challenges, the building principal will attempt to resolve the issues by explaining the procedure, criteria and qualifications for selecting the resource.

If the issue is not resolved, the resident can file a formal challenge, which is reviewed by the superintendent.

A committee — made up of the school librarian, the library department chair, a teacher selected based on the content area of ​​the book, a parent, a student, the complainant, the assistant superintendent and the superintendent — will then read the book being challenged . After that, the committee meets and reviews the book using a series of questions laid out in the policy.

School directors’ opinions vary

During the policy meeting, committee members largely homed in on “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a section of which was read aloud by a parent during a February school board meeting.

Members debated the sexual content of the passage and whether it should be considered pornography or sexually explicit. They also discussed the gray area surrounding definitions of being sexually explicit and who would determine which books should not be available to students.

“That book that was read, that is not proper for a high school (student),” Bombiani said.

Board member Jeanne Smith countered, saying, “I’m being the devil’s advocate here. In your opinion, it’s not appropriate. I didn’t like it, and I probably wouldn’t want my child to read it, but I would tell my child: Don’t read this book.”

She noted that changes shouldn’t be made to the policy simply because some board members did not like the outcome of the review.

“I don’t want to change something just because I disagree, but I want a chance to disagree. And I want a chance to vote, and vote that book down,” Bombiani said. “That book was disgusting.”

Bombiani said he would like to further discuss the book during the June 20 meeting.

While the full board was not present at the meeting, members were encouraged to give their input on possible changes to the policy. Their comments were emailed to the committee.

“I don’t mind a book in our library that can be used as a resource for anyone interested in trying to understand their path,” wrote board member Mike Alfery. “I have a major issue with any book that has explicit language or pornography.”

Board member Vince DeAugustine took a different stance.

“You have served our district on the policy committee for many years,” DeAugustine wrote. “You have been involved in every meeting … and would have a much better understanding of the policy itself and what would be best for the district. At this time I support the current policy as it stands.”

Superintendent Tammy Wolici added, “Our library should be a breadth of material for kids who have different needs and different interests. … I think it goes back to the parent being involved. Are the parents asking children what they’re reading?

“I think it just provides an opportunity for everyone to have access, and if they don’t agree with it, don’t check it out of the library.”

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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