Hempfield book policy draft could provide guard rails to sexualized content

After a yearlong debate over appropriate books in the school library, Hempfield Area officials have drafted updates to the district’s resource material policy that could shape the future of book selection and challenges in the district.

The draft, penned by Superintendent Tammy Wolicki and district solicitor Krisha DiMascio, sets guard rails to prevent sexually explicit content from entering or staying in the school library, among other updates.

The proposal awaits approval from the school board’s policy committee before the full board could put it to a vote.

DiMascio said the draft has the strongest language that the district could legally mandate. The solicitor believes the drafted policy would “correct problems.”

“I took it the furthest that we felt we could (to) provide an education but make clear what our standards are to the community,” she said.

DiMascio and Wolicki reviewed legal standards and other districts’ policies when crafting the draft.

The policy specifically addresses resource materials, or district materials supplemental to the curriculum that are typically found in the school library or classroom libraries.

The draft updates guidelines for both the selection of resource materials and requests for reevaluation of resource materials. The selection portion, policy 109-AR-0, received the heaviest addition of the two.

Under the selection draft, resource materials labeled or described as “sexual content, graphic violence, hate speech/ethnic intimidation or mature topics” would require “careful review” from the district before they are added to library shelves. Definitions of sexual content and ethnic intimidation were provided in the draft.

The draft also clarified what library book content the district does and does not deem appropriate at the elementary, middle school and high school levels: Visual depictions and explicit written descriptions of sexual acts would be barred from the school library at all grade levels.

Non-explicit written descriptions of sexual acts would be permitted at the middle school and high school levels. At an elementary school level, they would only be permissible when teaching students to avoid and report molestation.

Visual depictions of nudity would always be barred from elementary school materials; permitted in health, science and art materials in middle school; and allowed in any material in high school as long as the subject is at least 18 years old.

Those selecting materials for high school and middle school students should prioritize content that isn’t sexualized.

Finally, the selection draft provided further guidelines for district librarians to follow when selecting books.

The draft included a list of “reputable, unbiased” sources that librarians should use when procuring new books. Librarians should also note book titles that are or have been listed on the American Library Association’s challenged books list, the draft states.

The second section that Wolicki and DiMascio reexamined – policy 109-AR-3, request for reevaluation of resource materials – could see a third step added to the reevaluation process if the draft becomes policy.

The reevaluation policy gives parents the opportunity to challenge the presence of library books that they deem inappropriate.

Under the current policy, when a parent wishes to challenge a book’s presence, their concern is first informally reviewed with the building principal and, when applicable, the librarian or classroom teacher.

After the informal review, the parent can choose to formally challenge the book. A committee — consisting of relevant district employees, an administrator, parent, student and the complainant, among others — then reads the book, meets and reviews the text to evaluate its presence in the district.

The draft adds an appeal process to the policy. If, after the formal review, the complainant or a committee member is displeased with the committee’s findings, that person could appeal the decision. A second committee, consisting of the complainant and district-relevant people who were not on the informal or formal committees, would be convened.

The appeal committee would review the resource material and share a recommendation with the superintendent.

This committee’s decisions would be binding; after this, a challenged book cannot be rechallenged for three school years, the draft says.

Officials hope the draft – or a version of it – will be approved by the policy committee and board in the coming months.

Right now, board directors, community members, and district faculty and staff are reviewing the draft before the policy committee makes its decision.

Board director Tony Bompiani, who sits on the policy committee, said he was optimistic about the draft during the committee’s meeting last week.

“I think this is really good,” he said.

The draft comes after numerous parents, community members and board directors expressed concern about district library books containing sexualized content. Although board directors have disagreed on the extent to which resource materials should be barred from the library, they have agreed that sexually explicit content should not be present within the district’s walls.

Maddie Aiken is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Maddie by email at maiken@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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