2016-06-29 / Front Page

Sen. Chase: Librarians should be ‘dismissed’

Librarians push back in controversial book fight
By Rich Griset

In response to the controversy surrounding Chesterfield County Public Schools’ summer reading lists, state Sen. Amanda Chase and a handful of school librarians are jumping into the fray.

After parents objected to books placed on summer reading lists for middle and high school students, the county school system revised the lists. The new lists removed the offending titles, but added online links to book lists from other organizations like Scholastic and Read Kiddo Read. These organizations’ lists included some of the books parents objected to, including Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor and Park.”

Mentioning that she has three children currently in Chesterfield schools and a fourth who graduated from the school system, Chase says the books on the original lists are “pornographic” and “trash.” She says this is an issue she’s cared about long before taking office.

“Most parents, if they actually read excerpts [of these books], would have grave concerns,” says Chase, who graduated from Monacan High. “Whenever we start introducing kids to what I would say is explicitly pornographic material, I question the appropriateness of that material, especially when it conflicts with the core values that CCPS puts forward. As a parent, that’s not something that I want my kids reading.”

Online, the school system’s core values are listed as respect, responsibility, honesty and accountability.

Chase, a Republican, mentions that she supported a General Assembly bill this past session that would have required public schools to notify parents before using sexually explicit books in school. The bill passed both houses of the legislature before it was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

“At the very least, there should be parental notification,” Chase says. “It’s embarrassing, honestly. If parents want to talk about it at home with their kids, that’s one thing, but why would you have that at school?”

The revised reading lists states “not all parents will consider all of the books on these sites to be appropriate, so parents are encouraged to visit these sites for reviews to determine which books are appropriate.”

“It’s the same thing,” Chase says. “They’re still getting the information; they’re still going to the website.”

In response to the idea that parents should help their children pick out books, Chase says many parents are too busy.

“A lot of us work two and three jobs, and we don’t have time to check over everything our kids are reading,” Chase says. “If librarians are not recommending books that line up with Chesterfield County Public Schools’ core values, they should be dismissed. … It’s their job when they recommend books to make sure they line up with the core values of [CCPS].”

As for the books themselves, Chase also has stern words.

“I would take them out of the libraries,” Chase says. “Absolutely. If it’s not appropriate, if it’s X-rated material, I don’t want my kids getting their hands on it. They shouldn’t have been purchased in the first place.”

Donna Dalton, chief academic officer for Chesterfield Schools, told the School Board June 16 that a panel will meet in August to review the controversial books. In an email to the Observer June 17, Tim Bullis, director of community relations for the school system, said that school libraries are closed during the summer and therefore students don’t have access to the books in question. Three CCPS librarians contacted for this story say that this is not the case. Bullis did not answer emails asking whether school libraries were open during the summer.

Elizabeth Kyser, assistant librarian at Salem Church Middle, says “a good many, if not all” of the school system’s libraries will be open a day or two a week for students as part of a summer reading initiative. The school system’s central office gave Salem Church and other schools $1,500 a piece for summer reading programs, Kyser says.

“Kids are definitely allowed to check out books this summer and visit school libraries,” Kyser says. Even without the summer reading initiative, Kyser says that libraries are often open at schools that host summer school.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a longtime high school librarian disagrees with the opposition to the original reading lists.

“It’s a list of suggestions; that’s it,” the librarian says.

While the librarian agrees that Coe Booth’s “Tyrell” – which was on the original middle school list – is probably not appropriate for that reading level, the librarian says, “I have absolutely no understanding of why you would not let a high school student read ‘Eleanor and Park.’ [It’s] just a lovely little love story.”

Another title the parents objected to was “Dope Sick” by Walter Dean Myers.

“Walter Dean Myers is an icon in young adult literature,” the librarian says. “I think he would be rolling in his grave right now.”

After an Observer reporter began contacting librarians for this story, an email from instructional specialist Lori Donovan was sent to CCPS librarians, stating “if you get any requests for information about our summer reading lists, please forward all requests to Tim Bullis’ office.”

The librarian takes issue with this response from the school system.

“I understand the rationale for that, but I feel like that directive and the changing of the lists all have to do with free speech, intellectual freedom,” the librarian says. “Librarians see ourselves as champions of those rights, and so I think we have an obligation to speak up.”

In an email to the Observer on Monday, Bullis says that “referring calls to our office was in reference to the understanding that a librarian may no longer be onsite and front office administrative assistants answering phones may not be aware of the topic.”

As for Chase, the librarian has a question.

“Who gets to decide if those books do in fact line up with CCPS’ core values?” the librarian says. “I do think that librarians are the best people to decide that.”

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