More censorship on the horizon, but ingrained in policy
A new district-wide policy for library book selection was officially made public on Tuesday, April 10.
The policy would allow the school board to decide what books are placed in all district libraries and allows the board to remove books already in libraries.
If a book is removed from the library, it will not be up for reconsideration for at least 10 years.
The policy states, “Selection of materials is an ongoing process that includes the removal of collections deemed by the Board or the District-level library supervisor or Superintendent’s designee to be no longer appropriate and the periodic replacement or repair of materials still of educational value. ”
A large part of the policy focuses on describing material that is considered “inappropriate.” For middle and high schools, that means “explicit written descriptions of sexual acts.” For elementary schools, “explicit or implied written descriptions of sexual acts.”
Maura McInerny, Legal Director of the Education Law Center, said the policy violates the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech. She said ELC is reviewing the policy and informing district parents of their rights.
“While certain limitations are constitutionally permissible, this is not what is occurring when students are being told that they cannot borrow books from the school because they have not been “approved,” said McInerny.
Pennsylvania schools have banned books on over 450 occasions in the last nine months, according to a new report from PEN America. That is the second-highest total in the United States, behind Texas.
“What we are seeing in Pennsylvania is a purge,” McInerny said.
Kate Nazemi is a parent of two students in the district and has been a vocal opponent of the new policy for months.
“The target is LGBTQ [literature] because in a lot of the young adult literature around that, it is about relationships and it’s about identity,” said Nazemi. “And you have to talk about body parts and people having romantic relationships if you’re going to talk about that experience. So it’s a sure fire way to get rid of all those books.”
Central Bucks parents have been reading passages from books they want removed from libraries since March. All of the books are listed on WokePa’s website, many by Black and LGBTQ authors, including Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”
District teachers, librarians, and parents appeared at Wednesday’s school board meeting for their policy committee, to voice opposition to the draft.
Katherine Semisch, retired English teacher from Central Bucks West High School, said the proposed policy puts a “chokehold” on new books, partly because it requires the school board to read all the books before approval.
“The proposed policy favors elimination of content, over inclusion of content,” Semisch said.
“Is it the school’s job to edit the world, to prevent kids from learning the truth?”
She listed books like, ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and parts of the bible, as works that would not qualify for libraries under the policy.
Many are concerned about the lack of transparency from the board.
Chris Kehan is one of the Warwick Elementary School librarians.
“When was this drafted? Who drafted it? Who’s input was used? It is evident that it has been cut and pasted from something else,” Warwick said.
The Bucks County Beacon recently reported that the policy was mostly a copy of a policy by the Texas Education Agency.
Laura Ward, President of the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, said she hasn’t seen a policy like this before, in Pennsylvania.
She said, “It’s heartbreaking,” especially for vulnerable students.
“If we take away things that reflect them, then we’re telling them that we don’t value them, we don’t see them, we don’t want to hear them,” Ward said.
Because of the widespread moves towards censorship in Pennsylvania, the PSLA recently formed an intellectual freedom task group, to support any librarian facing threats of censorship.