Brandywine suspends adding ‘sexually explicit, violent’ books to middle/high school library

Published 7:25 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2023

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NILES CHARTER TOWNSHIP — A controversial debate over book policy in the Brandywine Community Schools district reached a new chapter during the district’s board of education meeting Monday at Brandywine Middle/High School.

In front of more than 150 people in attendance – many of which clad in maroon and gold “Stronger Together” shirts – the board voted 4-2 to suspend all “sexually explicit and violent books and material” from being added to the middle/high school library. Trustee Holly Pomranka was absent due to a family emergency.

According to BCS Board President Thomas Payne, the addition of sexually explicit and violent material will be suspended until the newly-created explicit book material committee has been formed and inventories the school’s books. A definition or guidelines for what the board considered to be violent or sexually explicit has not yet been provided. 

“Personally, I think it would be a mistake to continue adding books and try to chase our tail on what’s in [the library] and exactly what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it to make recommendations to the board,” Payne said. 

“The suspension of the explicit material is a precaution until we can determine a procedure and actually start auditing the material that’s in the library,” added Secretary Angela Seastrom. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s permanent. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re banning anything. It’s just a step to get into the right direction… The sooner we can establish a procedure, the better off everyone will be and the sooner we can move to getting a thorough inventory and assessment of what will be done within the library.”

Prior to deciding to suspend the addition of explicit books to the middle/high school library, the board discussed options including suspending the addition of explicit books for every school in the district as well as suspending the addition of all books to district libraries.

“I do not think suspending all inventory is the most beneficial option,” Seastrom said. “I think we’re getting hung up on details about who is going to determine what is violently or sexually explicit and I don’t know that needs to be addressed at this moment. I think it’s not unreasonable for us to use common sense on what is age appropriate. I would hope that it’s not unreasonable for us to use common sense on what is violent and sexually explicit and not age appropriate. 

“I think that we need to afford the committee the opportunity to form, to organize and to do their job; that is what we created it for.”

The board’s decision to suspend adding “explicit” material drew comments from both board members and the audience. Trustee Jessica Crouch, along with fellow Trustee Brian Burge, voted against the suspension of new books from the library.

“March is reading month,” Crouch said. “That’s a disservice to our students.”

Many in attendance were concerned that the suspension could lead to an eventual banning of books.

“We’re Americans – we’re not communists, we’re not fascists, we don’t ban books,” said Brandywine Elementary Principal Jim Boger. “We should, however, regulate sexually explicit books. Administration has already had a plan to regulate access to this material.”

“Books expose us to issues and circumstances that we wouldn’t otherwise encounter,” said Brandywine alumna Jasmine LaBine. “Educators are trained to facilitate discussion about these important issues.”

The explicit book material committee is one of several the board voted to create on Jan. 23, including committees on curriculum, tutoring, parent/community involvement, parent/guardian curriculum transparency. According to Payne, a form detailing how parents can get involved with district committees will be posted on the district website as well as distributed to Brandywine families in the near future.

One item that did not get a vote and was instead tabled after questions were raised was one asking for a change to the meeting schedule from two meetings per month to one meeting per month. It is expected to be taken up at the board’s Feb. 27 meeting.

More coverage:

Community members speak during public comment

Brandywine graduates create group to gather support for students, educators

Brandywine community raises concerns after school board approves new committees