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Lehigh Valley Area Schools Are Ready As Battle Continues Over 'Book Ban' – The Morning Call

One day, Jack Silva was window shopping on Bethlehem’s main street when he saw a display of banned books in the Moravian Bookstore.

All of the titles were banned at one time or another in schools across the country. Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Beloved” explores the horrors of slavery, and Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir “Gender Queer” details the author’s journey with gender identity. increase. Even Stephenie Meyer’s vampire-involved teen romance novel Twilight was among the censored collection of books.

“Books are learning opportunities,” says Silva, Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer of the Bethlehem Area School District. “And when I hear ‘book ban,’ I think, ‘What is the context of that?’ And what are the interest groups involved? And what is the problem?”

Over the past year, conservatives across the country have become more inclined to try to limit student access to books they deem inappropriate, while also calling for greater parental oversight of content. Progressive opposes these efforts as a pretense to target LGBT and race-related titles.

The local Lehigh Valley neighborhood has largely avoided calls for tighter regulations on student reading materials, with the exception of the East Penn community group.

Amid a nationwide war over books, Texas lawmakers last fall released 850 books he said could offend students, including titles that focused on sexuality and racism. In April, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin passed a bill that would give parents control over whether their children read books with “sexually explicit material” at school. signed. Also, several states, including Oklahoma, recently passed laws requiring online library databases to block student access to materials deemed harmful to children.

An educator in the Lehigh Valley told Morning Call that he’s wary of library policies like Central Bucks School District’s that allow books to be easily moved off the shelf. School district leaders fear that public schools are becoming a political battlefield, but they are committed to choosing the right books for their students, and to responding to parental and community complaints. We said we already have steps in place to deal with it.

Doylestown’s Central Bucks announced in July that it will restrict books containing “sexual content” from school libraries and require parents or residents to remove inappropriate books after review by a designated committee. passed a library policy that allows you to challengeThe American Civil Liberties Union advocated this policy book ban.

In East Penn, a community group was formed about nine months ago to discuss content issues within the district. Restoring Excellence from the group East Penn Education calls for more parental involvement in the selection of “age-appropriate” learning materials.

In an email, several leaders of the group focused on concerns about educational priorities, moving from academic success to gender identity and race politics.

They didn’t point to the specific library books they found, but said parents in some of the groups’ neighborhoods were “increasingly concerned about materials that inject politics into their classrooms.” I got

“When teachers shift their focus from achieving student academic achievement to gender identity and race politics, our children lose out,” they said.

The East Penn School District did not return multiple requests for comment on the library’s book selection policy.

Kirsten Hess, district guardian and owner of the Let’s Play Books Bookstore in Emmaus, speaks out against the community group. She believes East Her Pen has improved the district through diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

“I am working hard to understand the best course of action for the school district, trying to balance the needs of underrepresented students with what some people see as ordinary academics. I’m watching,” she said.

Hess attended several school board meetings at the Central Bucks when library policy was being debated. She serves on the board of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association, which works with bookstores in the area.

Hess said he was “devastated” by Central Bucks’ policy and, like many of his opponents, said the guidelines would allow people to target books dealing with race-related themes and LGBT characters. I’m afraid it will.

“I don’t want to be too ironic, but school districts need to introduce people who proofread, curate, and select books that shouldn’t be in the library, so why even have librarians?” she said. “That’s what librarians do. It’s not theirs.”

Silva and other local administrators say school districts mostly avoid content complaints by relying on librarians and media professionals to make sure students have the right books in the school library from the start. said he has been

Liberty High School librarian Monique Everett said librarians must balance curricular needs with title popularity when ordering books. She said her Bethlehem area’s book selection policy incorporates principles promoted by the American Library Association and the Library’s Bill of Rights.

“We don’t hide anything. We don’t smuggle books there that we want to put there on a personal agenda. I would like to represent the

Silva said in his 12 years in Bethlehem, no books had been escalated to his office for review, but if there were any complaints, he would work with district staff to review them in accordance with school board policy. I will rate the book.

Silva said he first determines whether the book is easy for students to read based on grade-level literacy. The next step is to ask the school’s psychologist or social worker to examine the content of the book for any harmful effects based on their knowledge of the child’s developmental stage.

“So it’s not like, ‘I like this book,’ or ‘I don’t like it, it’s gone,'” he said.

School districts in other areas, such as the Easton and Northampton areas, also rely on their own board policy procedures.

Easton Area Assistant Superintendent Tracy Piazza said community members can submit a written request to the school principal requesting a re-evaluation of the book. The superintendent then appoints a board to review the books, and the school board makes the final decision.

In the Northampton area, parents can fill out a form if they have concerns about educational materials, superintendent Joseph Kowalczyk said. Principals will then work with parents to handle complaints. If further action is required, a committee of two teachers and one librarian will review the content. The school board will make the final decision on any unresolved complaint.

“We have people from different backgrounds, and we need to make sure we provide resources for all these backgrounds,” Kovalchik said. “And we need to have policies and procedures in place to address people’s concerns.”

Southern Lehigh School District policies address community complaints at all levels, but are not specific to library books, Superintendent Michael Mahon said. He added that Southern Lehi is considering policies for handling potential library book complaints in the future.

“A lot of places, like the Central Bucks, have discussions about the process of deciding what to keep and what to keep based on complaints,” he said.

“I think we tend not to pull books off the bookshelf,” Mahon said. “But all the same, we recognize that some books may not be appropriate for any age or age group, so we take them seriously.”

Mahon said districts need to strike a balance between respecting parents who want to introduce some topics in their homes and making books available to help diverse communities. .

Addressing concerns that strict library policies across the country are targeting LGBT and race-related content, Mahon said there are extremes on both sides of the issue, causing divisions in school communities. .

“My hope is that we will address this in a thoughtful way, [we can recognize] “There are legitimate concerns on both sides of this issue that must be approached thoughtfully, respectfully and hopefully wisely.”

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This situation could be left in the hands of local authorities.

The Pennsylvania Senate this summer notified parents of “sexually explicit” content in books and coursework available to students, and required parents to block their children from viewing the material and provide alternatives. Passed a bill to allow searching. The bill is awaiting a vote in the state legislature as lawmakers return to Harrisburg this month.

Local administrators find it difficult for districts to enforce such laws because they are vague about what constitutes “sexually explicit material” and it is difficult to see all books in all district libraries. I said it is possible.

“I would never say that students shouldn’t pay attention to being exposed to age-appropriate content,” Mahon said. “I think a broad ban on books in libraries just needs attention there.”

For Kovalchik, the national and statewide debate on book bans is just another way public schools are landing at the center of political turmoil.

“School is a microcosm of society,” said Kowalczyk. “Everyone has their own opinions and thoughts. That’s fine, but it affects the school system.”

Wake-up call reporter Jenny Roberts can be reached at 484-903-1732. jroberts@mcall.com.

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