2022 School Board Candidate Q&A: Books in School Libraries

Lowell’s First Look met individually with all 8 candidates running for a position on the School Board for Lowell Area Schools, and who will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, November 8, 2022.  There are three seats up for election by voters. In addition to our interview, we sent each candidate the same set of questions. In the weeks leading up to the election, we will bring you responses to the questions we asked in addition to a candidate profile. Answers are published verbatim and have not been edited. We asked candidates to keep their responses to around 200 words.

There has been some discussion about the appropriateness of some books in Lowell school libraries. How do you think this should be addressed? (Editor’s note: Click here to view information recently sent home to parents from LAS Library Media Services.)

Jared Blough
Books that reference pornography and or pedophilia have no place in the schools. I do believe the age appropriate levels implemented are a good start.

Jessica Curtis
The LAS School Board policies guide the purchasing of all classroom materials.  The library is considered a classroom within each school and follows all LAS School Board policies. Any concerns that parents may have can view LAS Libraries Frequently Asked Questions via the LAS website. We will never all agree on specific books and topics that are appropriate for the audience that is reading them. It is certainly a parent’s right to revoke their child’s access to a title(s); however, they should not regulate what is appropriate for other readers or other parents. Ultimately, leaving it up to the parent to chose what it is best for their child.

Jennifer Dougherty
The books in our libraries are selected based on requests from teachers and students, curriculum needs, best seller lists and suggestions from educational and literary sources.  Because everyone has different views of what is appropriate, a book that is considered offensive to one family could be a favorite for another family. To account for these differences of opinions, parents have the option to restrict the type of books their children are allowed to check out from the library. The school district has a very straightforward process to request that a book be removed from the school library system. A parent or guardian sends a formal written review request to the school media specialist stating whether or not they have read the entire book and explaining what was found to be objectionable. The book is then reviewed by a committee and a recommendation is presented to the Board of Education. Based on discussions I have had with the superintendent and school media specialists, no formal requests for book removal have been made.

Chris German
I can’t imagining how the daunting task that monitoring all of the books in our system for their content appropriateness is.  There are bound to be times that some slip through the cracks.  Fortunately the policies in place do give the parents an opportunity to bring to attention books that may have slipped through and they then get reassessed by committee. If you still feel as a parent that the book is not appropriate for your student,  you can have that book not be allowed to be checked out for your kids specifically. There are some tweaks to the process of book selection that could be tweaked but over all I feel that it is ok.  I would like to see class room books to fall under this same process. From my understanding right now,  classroom books are not vetted by anyone other than the teacher of that room.  

Kyle Hoff
Regarding concerns with certain books in LAS libraries, if books in question are brought before the Board of Education through the current process, the board should use common sense in deciding whether these books should be in our libraries or not. If a book is age inappropriate or sexually graphic in some way for example, I don’t believe most Lowell parents would want their child to view that book. Again, common sense and protecting the innocence of our children should guide us when it comes to this.

Parker Liu
First, I trust our media center specialists to be able to evaluate materials appropriately when they are brought to LAS. If a material is in question, I believe that it is the responsibility of the district staff to fully evaluate the material (including reading books in their entirety) to make a decision on its appropriateness for LAS students. If a piece of media in question does not promote violence, discrimination, or blatant disrespect, it should be available to our students. Second, I believe parents should have the ability to limit what materials are available to their child. If the parents would like a piece of material restricted, the district should honor those wishes. In the end, I believe it should be the primary responsibility of the media center staff to offer a diverse array of materials covering a wide variety of topics. I believe these materials are essential to gaining an understanding of the diverse community that surrounds us. These topics should serve as a starter for conversations for families to ensure that a student’s understanding of a material is in line with their family’s feelings and beliefs. As.a member of the Board, I will take the time necessary to evaluate material of concern to ensure I can be an effective part of the conversation when needed.

Pat Nugent
I believe that the comments brought to the Board concerning library books reflect a cultural battle being played out across the nation. The Board has long had a process in place to handle complaints about individual textbooks or library books. The Board has reviewed books in the past and made decisions about their appropriateness. Over the past two years, no formal complaints have been lodged about any book in the district. There have been general comments and concerns addressed by a few community members, but no requests for district action have actually been filed. The Board has sound policies in place governing district educational materials, and we have an experienced, professional librarian on staff. There are opportunities for parental controls and oversight in place. All concerns that have been expressed have been sufficiently addressed by the District according to proper procedures.

Calvin Vander Boon (Note: Calvin Vander Boon’s name will appear on the November ballot, but he has notified us that he is withdrawing his candidacy for the LAS school board.)
The current board policies accept any book into the library that does not contain criminally explicit content and then make it very difficult to remove any books that parents are concerned about. I believe that the policies should be changed in a way that doesn’t use the criminal threshold as the minimum entrance criteria and set up procedures for examining books that cause concern with community members. I would then support all current books to be evaluated under the new threshold before being placed back on the shelf.

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