Brandywine Explicit Book Review Committee discusses checkout proposal

Published 11:00 am Friday, August 18, 2023

NILES CHARTER TOWNSHIP — Brandywine Explicit Book Review Committee members say they’ve come up with a compromise proposal to handle the checkout of sexually explicit books and materials from the middle/high school media center. 

That proposal was unveiled by Committee members Michelanne McCombs and Elaine McKee who also referred to state statutes and district policies on the subject. Thursday’s committee’s meeting in the Brandywine media center was attended by two dozen people. It is expected to be discussed again at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. 

McCombs and McKee are recommending a plan that will keep sexually explicit books out of the hands of students in grades 7-12 unless students’ parents give their permission to let them read such books. The only students not having to get parental permission would be those who are age 18 and have signed an age of maturity form. 

McKee said their proposal would have sexually explicit books and materials in a restricted area of the library. If a student requests a restricted book, staff would email the parent or guardian with the request as well as examples of the explicit materials. The parent or guardian would then have to sign a permission form and return it to the media center. 

She said once permission is received, the book could be checked out by the student. The same procedure would have to be followed every time a student requests a restricted book. “This will give parents the freedom to choose,” she said. 

“We listened to everybody who spoke at meetings and others who wanted the books removed,” McCombs said. “We realized there were liability questions if the books are removed so we want to present this opt-in proposal to the full board … Parents have to opt in and know what’s there. I think this is a fair compromise.” Superintendent Travis Walker asked for clarification on a couple of issues. He questioned whether parents would have to go through the procedure each time students request such a book or could give a blanket permission. McKee and McCombs said their view was that every book is different and unique and that it is an issue for the full board to decide. 

Walker said he feared that having the books in a restricted area could make them more appealing to students. He also asked if the new procedure would govern access to science books where there are pictures of human anatomy or art books with artistic depictions of the human body. 

Residents and staff also had questions. Staff members questioned the use of the website McCombs and McKee mentioned to vet books since they said the website is not all inclusive and said other rating websites should also be used. 

Teacher Kevin Smith said he felt the proposed policy for checking out such books is punitive and that parents should have the choice to give students blanket permission to read such books. Brian Exner agreed and said that following the proposed policy could be time consuming for staff. 

Others brought up the argument raised in previous meetings that sexually explicit books could actually help youth suffering sexual abuse to identify what they’re going through and getting help. 

“To a child, it may feel like they’re being invalidated if these books are restricted,” Ryan Adams said. “They may feel that it is an additional rejection.” 

Retired teacher Jim Rose said he felt the proposal would hurt staff morale and represents board members’ distrust of staff. He also brought up a situation where a restricted book could help students sort out whether they’re gay only to have the media center have to contact parents.  

“If they have to ask the parents, it could be catastrophic,” he said. “The librarian is put in the position of denying a book to a student that could save his life.” 

McCombs responded that she believes there are other books available that could serve a similar purpose in helping a young person going through a crisis without having explicit language. 

Walker and board members didn’t talk about news that the district has received $5,000 to buy books from the “We Need Diverse Books” foundation. Walker said later that it was a grant that teachers and parents applied for on their own without district knowledge or approval. 

He said any books purchased with the grant funds would be subject to district policies and protocols. Board action to accept the grant wouldn’t be necessary unless required by the foundation.