The Roanoke County School Board unanimously passed a new library policy that’s more restrictive to adding new books at its meeting Thursday night.
The matter comes after a book, “When Aidan Became a Brother,” was removed from Herman L. Horn Elementary last year, amid debate.
That book is about a transgender boy wanting to be a good brother to his new sibling, and according to school system documents, the mentioning of gender identity in the book is what led to the complaint by a parent, which ultimately got the book removed after a lengthy appeals process.
Some parents came and spoke out against the policy, which will now require all librarians at their respective level to approve a book before it could be added to a collection.
Before the librarians decide to agree on a book, two elementary school librarians must read and write a review for each book before it is added to the collection. One is required to read and write a review at the middle and high school levels.
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It is from those reviews where all librarians would have to approve the book unanimously before it is made public for parents to review the title of the book for two weeks, where objections can be made.
Under the previous policy, librarians had the ability to add to their collection using “reputable, professional selection aids, such as professional review journals, core collection tools and conference presentations when selecting media for vetting,” according to the school system’s policy guide.
The previous procedure in Roanoke County Public Schools is essentially what is stated in current policies in surrounding school districts such as Montgomery County, Roanoke City and Salem.
Concerns were brought up during the public comment period during Thursday’s meeting. They included workload for librarians, the idea the policy was a form of censorship or how it alienated certain groups of students.
The board approved the policy without comment on those issues.
Laura Bowman, a parent from the Windsor Hills District, told the school board if there is subject matter they wish to not be in libraries, they should “have the courage to just come right out and name it, instead of ignoring professionals” and “ hiding behind staff.”
“Imagine a school board that exhibited such deeply ingrained fear, bias and prejudice through its policymaking, that it hurt the children it claimed to care about and was supposed to be serving,” she said. “I don’t have to imagine it. I’m looking right at it.”
No Roanoke County librarian came and spoke in favor of the policy during any portion of the meeting, and it is unclear whether any were in attendance. No other member of the public spoke in favor of the policy during the meeting, either.
Superintendent Ken Nicely said the idea to have librarians read all the books before they are added to the collection was an idea that came within the Roanoke County system.
“It’s just kind of a common sense approach. You know before we put something on the shelves, somebody oughta look at it.” Nicely said. “It was our idea here within the district.”
He said he couldn’t recall the specific individuals who came up with the idea.
During the board comments portion of the meeting, following the vote, Windsor Hills District board member Cheryl Facciani said policy decisions like the new media policy were why she and some of the other board members were elected last November.
“People voted for us because they know we believe parents have a stake in their education,” she said. “They wanted us to get back to basics.”
Multiple board members said they are not the ones that create policy, but rather the administration does, though Facciani and Catawba District representative Brent Hudson shared their support for the new policy, as did Vinton District representative, Tim Greenway
Facciani also referenced the national outcry, largely by conservative political groups, over the last year about some of the books found in school libraries.
She said there has been “pornography” found in books not only at the middle and high school level, but also at the elementary level, though she did not specify at Roanoke County or what books she was referencing.
Facciani declined to speak to The Roanoke Times following the meeting.
Board Chair and Hollins District representative David Linden initially agreed to speak to The Roanoke Times about the new policy, but declined after speaking with other media members in attendance.
Greenway also declined to be interviewed after the meeting, leaving out of a private exit before without responding to a question about whether he approved of the book, “When Aidan Became a Brother,” being removed from a school in his district.
Greenway appointed one of the three members of the citizen committee that ultimately decided the book should be moved to the guidance office.
The school system has not disclosed the name of the parent who made the initial complaint which ultimately led to the book being removed, citing federal FERPA laws,
RCPS initially wanted to keep the committee members redacted in addition to the parent who made the initial complaint, but relented after being told the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council said the committee members names should not be withheld.
The ACLU of Virginia also criticized the school system’s new policy on social media, saying it was “an absurd burden to put on school librarians and a tactic of censorship. This policy should fail.”
Regarding the removal of the book, Bowman also criticized that decision.
“It’s convenient to deny another person’s existence and life struggles and in turn, not have to feel their pain and show care for them,” she said.