BCSC board considers library book complaint process

Jason Major BCSC School Board candidate District 1 Mike Wolanin | The Republic

With one month to go until the state’s deadline, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. board has yet to reach a consensus on what updates to make to the school corporation’s policy on complaints for library books.

The school board held a public work session on Monday to discuss the matter and is scheduled to have its last regular meeting of the year on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the administration building’s Terrace Room. The board is expected to vote on policy updates at that time, officials said.

Over the last couple of months, board members have been discussing policy updates due to a new law that requires school libraries to, among other things, establish a formal complaint process for parents, guardians and community members to submit requests to remove library materials that are obscene or harmful to minors.

The BCSC school board has been working to update its relevant policies by Jan. 1, which is when these changes go into effect.

Much of the discussion at Monday’s meeting centered on Policy 9130 – “Public Complaints and Concerns.” At present, school officials have used the existing policy’s section on instructional materials to address complaints regarding library books.

The draft discussed at the meeting includes the creation of a new section for school library materials. The section states that the parent or guardian of a student, or a community member residing within the corporation, can submit a request to remove material they believe to be obscene or harmful to minors, as defined by Indiana Code.

Indiana Code defines a matter or performance as obscene if:

(1) 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;

(2) the matter or performance depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct; and

(3) the matter or performance, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

On the other hand, material is harmful to minors if:

(1) it describes or represents, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse;

(2) considered as a whole, it appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors;

(3) 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

(4) considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors.

The policy draft states that the individual will present their request to the relevant building principal in writing. The principal will then advise the assistant superintendent of human resources of the request. The assistant superintendent, upon the superintendent’s approval, will appoint a review committee that may consist of one or more professional staff members and one or more laypersons knowledgeable in the area.

“Provided, at least one (1) member of the review committee shall be the parent of a student,” the draft policy adds.

The superintendent will be a member of the committee as well, by nature of his office.

The committee will be guided by the definitions of obscenity and harm to minors under Indiana Code, and its recommendation will be reported to the superintendent in writing within 60 business days following the formation of the committee. The superintendent will then inform the individual who made the request of the committee’s recommendation and also inform the board of the action taken or recommended.

The requester may appeal the decision to the board within 30 business days via a written request to the superintendent. The board will then review the request and decision at the next public meeting after an appeal is submitted, but is not required to make its final decision at that meeting. The board will inform the complainant of its decision within 60 business days of the public meeting where the materials were first reviewed.

“No challenged material may be removed from the curriculum, school library, or from a collection of resource materials without following the relevant process described above,” the policy draft states. “No challenged material may be removed solely because it presents ideas that may be unpopular or offensive to some, without it being ‘obscene’ or ‘harmful to minors’ as the same are defined in Indiana Code. Any Board action to remove material will be accompanied by the Board’s statement of its reasons for the removal.”

Board members Logan Schulz and Jason Major objected to having the formal complaint process only focus on material alleged to be obscene or harmful to minors, with Schulz saying he believes that most materials would pass the state’s test due to having some level of literary value.

“It is a very high bar for a book to be considered obscene or harmful to minors,” said BCSC attorney Michael McIver.

In discussing the matter, board members considered adding a section stating that materials may also be challenged based on “the suitability of subject, content, and style for the intended audience.”

Schulz and Major indicated their support for this idea, as did board member Dale Nowlin. Todd Grimes, Nicole Wheeldon and Rich Stenner said they would need to think it over. Pat Bryant, who also serves as a resource officer at the Bartholomew County Public Library, said he was against it.

“What if I want my kid to read that book and maybe the only place that they can get it is at the school library?” he said.

Board members also discussed the possibility of editing the policy draft to emphasize the importance of having an informal meeting at the building level prior to submitting a formal challenge. A couple of BCSC librarians who were present at the meeting stressed the value of these conversations.

“A parent should be able to bring any concerns to us that they have about a book,” said elementary media coordinator Monta Frazier, who also sits on the Bartholomew County Public Library’s board of trustees. “And in the past, I’ve never been involved in a book concern that has gone beyond the informal.”

In addition to 9130, the board also discussed a draft of updates to Policy 2520. The policy, currently titled “Selection of Instructional Materials and Equipment,” would instead be labeled “Selection of Library Materials and Equipment” under the update.

The draft states that the school board will provide library materials and equipment, within budgetary constraints, “to implement the School Corporation’s educational goals and objectives and to meet students’ needs.”

The superintendent will develop administrative guidelines for the selection and maintenance of these items, and the policy lists several criteria that should be considered. These include “relevance and lasting literary value,” the reputation and qualifications of the author, creator or publisher, the value of the resource in relation to its cost, “the suitability of subject, content, and style for the intended audience,” requests from administrators, students and teachers, and “the representation of various viewpoints on controversial subjects with the goal of providing a balanced collection.”

The policy also states that school libraries will not include any materials that contain obscene matter or matter harmful to minors. Additionally, the superintendent will establish the procedure for each school to prepare a catalog of library materials.

In discussing his thoughts on the draft, Schulz said, “I still object to no parental consent for themes of sex, violence and drug use, but at the end of the day, majority rules.”

He had previously proposed a new policy wherein school libraries would classify certain titles as “controversial” and require parental permission for students to access these materials. Major has also expressed support for his proposal.