Proposed updates to policies about selection and review of instructional and library materials to comply with a new state law led to a contentious discussion among Carmel Clay Schools board members at their Nov. 13 workshop meeting.
CCS administrators have proposed splitting a policy that covers the challenge and removal of instructional materials and library books into two separate policies. The proposed updates are in response to a law that takes effect in 2024 requiring school districts to have a process in place for parents or community members to ask for a review and possible removal of books they deem obscene or harmful to minors.
CCS already has procedures to initiate a review of a specific item, but the proposed changes aim to ensure the policy fully aligns with the new state law.
School board member Greg Brown said he believes the new law shows that state legislators want school boards and educators to more seriously vet and consider the content available to students in school libraries. He brought the book “Jesus Land,” which he said is available to CCS students, to the meeting and planned to read an excerpt he found inappropriate, but other school board members said state law doesn’t require removal of books based on a single passage, and Brown did not end up reading it aloud.
When questioned by board member Jennifer Nelson-Williams, Brown said he had not read the book in its entirety. Nelson-Williams and board member Kristin Kouka said they had read all of “Jesus Land” and challenged Brown to do the same before asking for it – or other books – to be removed.
“Cherry-picking a passage does not rise to the level of what the law states, that the entire book must lack serious literary or artistic value,” Nelson-Williams said. “So precisely what you’ve done, by looking on a website and then cherry-picking (passages), does not rise to that level, as was also informed to us by Hamilton County Prosecutor Greg Garrison.”
Brown indicated he doesn’t believe books with certain sexual content should be available to students, even if most of the book isn’t objectionable.
“I’m just disappointed that you folks are fine if we have pornographic content in books in our library, and they are in there,” Brown said. “I’ve got five that I quickly picked, and they’re quite astonishing.”
Amy Dudley, CCS assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment, disagreed with Brown’s assessment.
“We do not believe we have obscene materials in our media centers. Our media specialists do not choose obscene material,” Dudley said. “However, we may have patrons who disagree with that.”
The board is expected to vote on the proposed policy changes at its Dec. 18 meeting.
The proposed policy
The proposed Carmel Clay Schools policy regarding selection, review and removal of school library materials states:
The school libraries housed within the School Corporation support and enrich the curriculum, students’ personal interests, and learning. The goal of Carmel Clay Schools library media centers is to provide a wide range of materials on all levels of difficulty, with diversity of appeal, and the presentation of different points of view. The development, selection, and maintenance of the library media collection at each school is the responsibility of the school media specialist.
The media specialist at each school examines educational reviews and professional resources to help guide the selection process.
CCS media specialists use the following criteria to select items for the library collection:
- Support for the general educational goals and teaching strategies of Carmel Clay Schools
- Support for the adopted Indiana Academic Standards
- Support for the course objectives and program of studies
- Relevance and lasting literary value
- Reputation and qualifications of the author, creator, or publisher
- Clarity, accuracy, and logic of presentation
- Value of the resource in relation to its cost
- Suitability of physical format
- Suitability of subject, content, and style for the intended audience
- Needs of an individual school program based on requests from administrators and teachers
- Needs of individual students based on requests by teachers or students
- Representation of various viewpoints on controversial subjects with the goal of providing a balanced collection
- Various formats in an effort to incorporate emerging technologies and accessibility
Despite the careful selection of and the qualification of those involved in the selection process, objections to school library media materials may occur.
A parent or guardian of a student enrolled in the Corporation or a community member who resides within the geographic boundaries of the Corporation may submit a request to remove material from a school library on the grounds that the material is obscene or harmful to minors as those terms are defined by the Indiana criminal code:
A matter or performance is obscene for purposes of this article if:
- the average person, applying contemporary community standards, finds that the dominant theme of the matter or performance, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex;
- the matter or performance depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct; and
- the matter or performance, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
A matter or performance is harmful to minors for purposes of this article if:
- it describes or represents, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse;
- considered as a whole, it appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors;
- it is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable matter for or performance before minors; and
- considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.
The superintendent shall develop administrative guidelines that outline the school library material removal request procedure that is in accordance with Indiana code.