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Hanover County School Board approves revised library policy

A group of books sits on a library shelf. The four furthest to the right are "Tilt" by Ellen Hopkins, "Identical" by Ellen Hopkins, "Lucky" by Alice Sebold and "Haunted" by Chuck Palahniuk
Connor Scribner
VPM News File
Four books recently banned from Hanover school libraries (on right) are seen at the main branch of the Richmond Public Library, Wednesday, June 14, 2023. Hanover's School Board recently voted to remove 17 books from the schools' library system.

John Redd was the only board member who voted against the change.

The Hanover County School Board recently adopted a revised draft of its library and media centers policy. The division’s previous measure, initially adopted in June 2023, was criticized by county residents as a means to make it easier to ban books from school and classroom libraries.

Since that last policy’s adoption, the school board has removed 91 books from circulation from school facilities. The board’s most recent book review decision kept the New International Version of the Bible in circulation.

School Board Chairperson Bob May said the changes to its existing policy arrived after a lengthy discussion among the board and its staff during a March work session.

“One of the reasons we have these work sessions in the first place is to work out how we can do things more efficiently,” May told VPM News in April.

Jennifer Greif, Hanover’s assistant superintendent for instructional leadership and chief academic officer, characterized the changes as a complete “rebuild” of the existing policy that establishes a layered method of how materials are reviewed.

Greif presented staff’s findings during the board's regular meeting in April. And on May 14, the panel approved the policy in a 6-to-1 vote.

John Redd, who represents the Mechanicsville District, was the only member who voted against the revised policy.

What’s changed and what remains the same ?

The introduction of the new policy is largely built on language from Virginia Code.

“We heard very clearly from school board members throughout this revision process that age appropriateness, educational suitability and controversial issues were the three pillars that we wanted to make sure were intact as we built the policy,” Greif previously said about the revamped policy, which also builds on the division’s evaluation of materials.

Greif later clarified this particular policy does not prohibit teachers from teaching anything that is deemed controversial or sensitive, but asks them to present a balanced view determining which material they choose to use as an instructional resource.

The policy also maintains Hanover’s Library Materials Committee: a group of seven school board appointees tasked with evaluating complaints made against certain library resources and determining their appropriateness for use throughout the school division.

Two new sections incorporated into the policy are titled "Parental Involvement" and "Professional Learning."

Greif said school staff recognized the importance of the partnerships forged between parents, guardians and instructional staff as controversial materials are made available.

The partnership would encourage parents to speak with the school system about the materials in school libraries. Should a parent or guardian have concerns over their child’s access to library materials, that parent can restrict the child’s access.

An annual notification would be provided to parents who wish to place restrictions on their student’s access to certain library materials.

Another new section in the policy involves professional learning. The policy promotes consistent implementation among librarians and teachers. Greif said faculty would be trained to “maintain a consistent and cohesive approach to the curation of our libraries in the selection of materials.”

These training sessions also include information on the policies, practices and processes related to library materials.

Per the policy, faculty will "receive yearly professional learning on the concepts of age appropriateness, educational suitability, and controversial issues. These sessions will also include information on the policies, practices, and processes related to library materials."

The largest change to the board’s process are the roles school faculty have in acquiring library books and the process in which they’re reviewed by staff and board members.

Acquisitions, deselection and reconsideration

The process by which books are acquired, deselected and reviewed has mostly stayed the same, but with some notable changes.

Trained school librarians and professional staff remain responsible for selecting which books are acquired during a given school year. Classroom teachers also maintain their ability to house their own classroom library resources, as long as those materials are in accordance with the policy.

Librarians and classroom teachers are asked to consult a variety of professional resources for book reviews when making their selections. They’re also responsible for regularly analyzing what’s in circulation, eliminating items from a library to keep the collection current, appealing and relevant.

School administrators have the responsibility of overseeing the deselection process on the fiscal side. Principals are asked to meet regularly with staff responsible for deselecting and removing library materials.

School administrators would also have oversight in both the acquisition and deselection process.

The method in which residents file complaints or challenge individual books found in schools will remain roughly the same as well. Parents or guardians of students in the school system or a county employee or resident has the authority to file a challenge over a book’s retention in a school or classroom library. The school board also retains its authority to remove or acquire any book by majority vote.

There are now changes to the levels of review for challenges:

  • Level one: Local School Review Committee
  • Level two: Library Materials Committee
  • Level three: School Board review

When a complaint is submitted by a local resident, it’s evaluated by the school at the local school level. An opportunity will be given for the complainant to meet with the Local School Review Committee to discuss the validity of their complaint.
Prior to that meeting, the committee will also read, view or experience the challenged material in its entirety. They will then discuss this with librarians and teachers, and evaluate the challenged library material for its strength and educational value before determining the need to keep it or not.

If the complainant denies the opportunity to meet with the committee, the review will be discontinued.

Should the committee opt to remove the book from schools, that book is removed from the school where the complaint was made, rather than being removed from all the schools.

The complaint then moves to the Library Materials Committee, where they’ll determine if the book or media is suitable for the division as a whole. That recommendation is then forwarded to the school board for a final vote.

The school board would only have a final vote if the Local School Review and Library Materials committees opt to retain the book and those decisions are subsequently appealed.

During the review process, the challenged material would only remain in circulation if it is not deemed to contact sexually explicit content.

Committee members are required to share information across each level of review.

Greif, the division’s assistant superintendent, said there are a lot of opportunities to determine nuances in books that might be appropriate at the high school level, rather than at the middle or elementary levels.

“We talk about what are some ways that we can carve out the most appropriate place for materials to be used,” she previously said. “This policy is really hinged upon the collaboration between professional library staff, teachers and principals.”

Updated: May 22, 2024 at 4:02 PM EDT
This story's been updated following a school board vote on the policy.
Lyndon German covers Henrico and Hanover counties for VPM News.
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