DEARBORN — The Dearborn Public School District has released details on how it plans to revamp how it selects books for school libraries or media centers and its current procedures for handling challenges brought by parents.
In a meeting with reporters on Wednesday, school officials also reiterated that it has not banned any books, but is evaluating six books that were challenged by a parent, in line with the district’s current guidelines for how it reviews books in case of objections by parents.
Those books have temporarily been taken out of circulation until an internal review process is completed. A seventh book was on loan from the city’s public library.
District officials also highlighted that books are selected for the libraries based on several criteria, including age appropriateness. Those books are then allocated to elementary, middle or high school libraries based on whether a book is appropriate for those school ages.
Officials also said that the libraries already have an Opt Out Request Form, by which parents can currently prevent access to specific titles for their children.
The district now plans to review and tighten up the criteria it uses to initially select books after some controversy around some books, which did have common LGBTQ+ oriented themes and discussed sexuality in open terms. A parent objected to them in August.
The guidelines for how the district handles challenges from parents or staff members have already been in place. The six books are still in the initial, internal review process and being looked over by district media specialists.
More information on a Book Reconsideration Committee, which will evaluate the six titles based on criteria in case the parent is not satisfied with the district’s internal review process, and how volunteers can join that committee, plus the district’s finalized guideline regarding books appears in a press release by the district, reprinted below in full.
The guidelines for how the district handles challenges from parents or staff members have already been in place. The six books are still in the initial, internal review process and being looked over by district media specialists. The district refers to its libraries as media centers, and staff that work in them as media specialists, who are also educators.
If that internal review process says the books must stay on the shelf, the parent has a choice of accepting the decision or signing the Opt Out form. If the parent continues to challenge the books for removal, the books then go to the Book Reconsideration Committee.
Since the district has not had to bring a book to such a committee, it has now finalized the makeup of that committee, which will include nine members: Three parents and/or community members, three teachers and/or media specialists, one administrator, one social worker/school psychologist and one student.
“Dearborn Public Schools believes that media materials containing graphic and/or gratuitous violence, sexual content, expletives or hate speech, and without literary or educational merit should not be included in our school media centers,” the guidelines say.
The district will likely update the public on these procedures at a school board meeting on Monday, Oct.10. The school board itself does not have any influence in the book review procedure and board members do not initiate or call for a review.
Each parent or guardian has the right to determine the appropriateness of library resources for their children and should afford the same right to other families. – Dearborn Public Schools guideline for selection and review of books
Full press release from the Dearborn Public Schools
Dearborn Public Schools on Wednesday released its new criteria for how books in school libraries will be evaluated and how parents can address concerns they have about specific titles.
The district plans to continue to offer a robust and diverse collection of reading materials for its 20,100 students, but is creating a more formal structure to review the age-appropriateness of materials, especially in regard to issues such as sexually explicit or violent content.
The district has also created a digital form parents can use to limit specific titles their child may access. The Parent Opt Out for Media Materials form will be posted on the district’s website under the Parent/Community Member Portal page. Parents can use the form to keep their child from accessing certain materials or to completely opt their child out of checking any items out of the media centers. This is similar to the option parents have long had to pull their child from reproductive health classes.
“We realize the community has many strong feelings on both sides of the issue of limiting student access to some books,” said Superintendent Glenn Maleyko. “We work hard to make sure our schools are welcoming, safe spaces for all students, and our libraries will continue to reflect that as well. However, we are also aware that the vast majority of students in our care are minors, still learning about life and the world, and they are not ready emotionally or intellectually to process some content.”
Dearborn Public Schools has almost 500,000 physical books, representing more than 300,000 unique titles in its library catalog system. Schools are currently undergoing a two-pronged approach to review their collections. First, employees are conducting complete inventories to ensure the catalog reflects what books are actually on the shelves and that missing titles are removed from the list.
Secondly, the district’s highly qualified media specialists are reviewing their schools’ collections, removing books that students are no longer using, that are out-of-date or that are not age appropriate for that school level. Media specialists have several resources they can use to help determine age appropriateness, including the publisher’s recommended age level and a number of organizations that specifically review books for students. Given the size of the district’s collection, this weeding process is not expected to be completed this year.
Students and parents can find their child’s library book catalog on the district’s website under the Parent/Community Member Portal page.
“We realize our families have a wide variety of viewpoints on any number of issues, and it’s unrealistic to think our school libraries can meet every individual need,” Dr. Maleyko said. “We encourage parents who are concerned about specific titles to use the Opt Out form. And of course we encourage all parents to help their children use the wonderful Dearborn Public Library to find reading material they deem appropriate for their child.”
Parents who are truly concerned about having a specific book in a school can also go through a book challenge process to ask that the book be removed.
That process starts with a parent contacting the media specialist at their child’s school to request a book be reevaluated. The parents’ book challenge should include the book title, author and some specific reasons the parent feels the book is inappropriate for that grade level.
A group of at least five media specialists from across the district will then reexamine the age appropriateness of that book, considering the parents’ specific concern in addition to the recommendations and reviews used to initially include books in the district’s collection.
The parent who filed the challenge will then be notified of the results of that initial review. If the media specialists feel the book should remain in the collection, the parent will be given the option of asking for a Book Reconsideration. When that happens, a small committee of district staff and parents will read the book and evaluate it based on the district’s age-appropriateness criteria. The committee will consist of a rotating group of staff and parents or community members with a moderator provided by the district. The Book Reconsideration Committee can opt to allow the book to remain, limit it to a higher grade level or have the book removed from the school libraries.
Parents interested in serving on the committee can ask to be added through the Book Reconsideration Member Volunteer form. To serve on a committee, a volunteer must agree to read the book in question in its entirety, review information on why the media specialists deemed it appropriate and to participate in a civil discussion about whether the book is appropriate at that grade level.
The updated Guidelines for the Selection and Review of Media Materials notes, “Each parent or guardian has the right to determine the appropriateness of library resources for their children and should afford the same right to other families.”
Community members can also learn more about the district’s book review guidelines and media materials in general with a new School Matters podcast.
Six books that were already submitted to the district for a book challenge will be the first to go through the initial review process. Depending on the outcome of that review, the parent who raised the concerns could then ask for a Book Reconsideration. The district is also working with Wayne RESA on options to limit certain titles through their digital school library program for parents who request that and hopes to soon be offering digital books again to students.
“We appreciate patience from our parents and community members as we implement this new process,” Dr. Maleyko said. “Reading and critical thinking are enormously important life skills, and we are always working to find the balance between encouraging our students to explore the wonders of the written word, while ensuring they can do so with age-appropriate material.”