At Thursday’s meeting, board member Sharon Collopy said the school board doesn’t need to see the list of recommended books before buying them.
“But,” Collopy said, “the buck stops with somebody.”
Kate Nazemi is a district parent who has been analyzing politics for months.
“They just shifted responsibility,” Nazemi said. “They saw a legal issue coming their way and they were like, ‘Oh, we’re just going to leave this scene and move on to administration or someone designated.
Vic Walczak, chief legal officer of the ACLU Pennsylvania, said the board removing specific references to itself from the policy “will not allow them to avoid ultimate responsibility for any kind of censorship. That’s a policy that is adopted by the board of directors and the responsibility ends there.
What is “implied nudity”?
The policy’s criteria for book selection and for books challenged by parents remain vague.
The book selection criteria stipulate:
Each item selected must:
- Support and enrich the curriculum and/or personal interest of students and their learning;
- Be appropriate for the subject and age, intellectual development and ability level of the students for whom the material is selected; and
- For non-fiction resources, include accurate and authentic factual content.
For the contested material:
“Removal of materials may be based on lack of educational adequacy of library material, irrelevance to minors such as sexualized content, and pervasive profanity or vulgarity.”
The policy loosely defines inappropriate material to be avoided for elementary, middle and high school students. .” College books cannot include “visually implied depictions of sex acts, explicit written descriptions of sex acts, or visual depictions of nudity.” And textbooks should not include “explicit descriptions of sexual acts or visual depictions of nudity”.
Nazemi points out that the language is not rooted in national standards for what is considered appropriate described by the American Association of School Librarians.
“It’s a lot of content that’s defined on a whole page that’s inappropriate. How do you define everything else?” Nazemi asked. She wonders who decides what literature is appropriate and valuable for students, without referring to national standards, and how objective will this process be?
“[The district] must answer this question,” Nazemi said.
Walczak said vague policies offer a lot of power to policymakers.
“It gives them unlimited power and authority to get rid of anything they don’t like. And it is expected that once this vague policy is adopted, they will apply it to get rid of the materials that they have been targeting all along,” Walczak said.
Walczak refers to the already existing hostile climate for LGBTQ students and allies, with, for example, the removal of class pride flags, the directive not to use the correct gender pronouns of students at Lenape Middle School, and the suspension of the Professor Andrew Burgess of Lenape College. , a known advocate for LGBTQ students.
The ACLU closely monitors the movements of the district, to see which books are restricted, to determine if they violate the First Amendment.
Walczak is also concerned about vague policies that create a chilling effect on educators. He said that in cases like this, educators censor themselves in fear before being censured by their district.
“That’s another problem the Supreme Court has identified with vague policies,” Walczak said. “It doesn’t give enough guidance to the people making the decisions. And in a situation like at Central Bucks, where guidelines have already been sent out that “hey, we’re concerned about all this LGBTQ-themed material,” the staff responsible for making those decisions will just over-censor out of fear, of uncertainty.