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Hanover school board updates book ban policy

A person reads their book while wearing a pins that ready "Vote yes for an ELECTED SCHOOL BOARD and READ THE BOOKS!"
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Rives Priddy, of Ashland, reads a book on Tuesday at the Hanover County Administration Building. Hanover parents protested outside to demonstrate the importance of books in schools.

The board discussed how teachers and librarians take inventory of classroom books and how those books may be selected. 

The Hanover County School Board this week updated its school library policy to include instructions on how schools review and inventory books in classrooms. In June, the school board passed its initial mandate to remove books deemed inappropriate for students, leaving teachers and librarians with mere weeks to catalog in-class reading materials for the upcoming school year.

The amendments passed unanimously by the board on Tuesday were meant to give educators a grace period before submitting their inventory of books and magazines, particularly for those in elementary classrooms.

Teachers in secondary classrooms have until Jan. 12, 2024 to compile their list of books for the 2024-25 school year.

Those lists are to be reviewed by school librarians and administrators in accordance with the professional materials identified and approved by the school board. Mechanicsville District's John Redd questioned why teachers should have to complete these lists in the first place.

“I've heard teachers complaining about this inventory of books, and I can somewhat agree with them,” Redd said Tuesday. “That's going to be very difficult for them to do… I'm wondering why we can't eliminate that section under checks and balances with this classroom.”

Redd’s concerns were answered by the board’s vice chair, Cold Harbor's Steven Ikenberry, who said this revision was a compromise developed by teachers and instructional staff as they work to increase transparency within the school system.

In order to alleviate the burden on teachers preparing for lesson plans for the school year, retirees and substitutes will be used to assist with the selection process.

“To me, this does send a message to our parents, that we are transparent to the entire public of what's going on in every classroom,” Ikenberry said. “And that the parents get a chance to see what's going on from K-12.”

Another update to the board’s library policy is that books removed from schools by the school board will remain removed for a minimum of four years, before it may be reconsidered unless the board reverses its decision.

The board removed 19 books from school libraries immediately after passing its policy on June 13.

What’s more concerning for parents and residents, like Connie Piper of Beaverdam, are the resources the board expects teachers to consult before selecting reading material.

The list of sources identified by the school board include some historically well-known resources for librarians including The Horn Book Guide, Kirkus Review, the Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal and more.

However, as Piper pointed out, sources like BookLooks and Ratedbooks are not sources used by teachers or librarians — but are deeply dangerous to parents, children, educators and school boards.

“The two sources that you have added to the professional reviewing sources … are not professional reviews,” Piper told the board. “They are not written by professional librarians who have read widely and studied collection development. They are not unbiased.”

Piper, a recent retiree and former school library curriculum specialist for Hanover County Public Schools, said these websites are sponsored by political groups that are seeking to censor books, infiltrate school boards and win elections.

Those groups include organizations like No Left Turn in Education, which is affiliated with Rated Books and Moms for Libertywho share a strong connection to BookLooks founder and Moms for Liberty member Emily Maikisch— although both groups deny any such connection.

The groups espouse parental rights, a reframing of public education that focuses on objecting to teaching cultural issues and sensitive topics — such as systemic racism, sexual orientation, climate change and gender diversity.

Moms for Liberty is also among a number of organizations deemed "extremist" according to Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit watchdog group focusing on civil rights and public interest issues.

The National Education Association — the largest labor union in the United States representing teachers and public school personnel — have signaled that organizations are behind simultaneous affronts to censorship and other school issues across the country.

Piper is sending the same signal to the Hanover school board.

“On your watch, you have allowed a small group to use a political website to craft a list of books to ban; books that no one has read, but instead the Moms for Liberty have told you they are not appropriate,” Piper said. “You are now using this list of books to decide for all of the parents of Hanover County, taking away student choice and parental control over what their students read.”

Piper added that this decision stood “in direct opposition to your stated purpose to base selection."

"The selection on these sources is, at best, poor practice and at worst, unethical," she said.

The board did agree to remove RatedBooks from the list of professional review resources before passing the measure, insisting that the additions were only meant to complement existing resources.

Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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