New year, new-ish board
The Jan. 4, 2022, NH-V Board meeting was devoted to swearing in new members, electing board president (Viotto) and vice-president (Bonomi), and discussing committee assignments. During public comments, community members and a representative from the NJ Association of School Librarians urged resolution of the book reconsideration process. The recording of the meeting is available on the BOE Agendas, Minutes & Recordings page. Public comments begin at 15 minutes, 50 seconds.
To remind the new board that it still had old business to address, the Intellectual Freedom Coalition, a subcommittee of the NH-V Intellectual Freedom Fighters, sent a letter to outline concerns about the book reconsideration process and to request resolution by Jan. 25. Read the text of that letter below.
January 4, 2022
Dear Members of the Board,
We, the undersigned, have organized to investigate and monitor the materials reconsideration process associated with the library books targeted at your Sept. 28, 2021, meeting and in the weeks following. Based on the irregularities observed during the district’s 2019 attempt to ban Fun Home, we and others in the community are concerned that Board policies and regulations are once again being skirted in the current book controversy.
Additionally, we are concerned about the absence of communication and transparency to the public surrounding the process. While we acknowledge that the actions of a small but vocal group have unfortunately placed the Board in an uncomfortable position, it is nonetheless vital that you act in a judicious, timely, and transparent manner.
Specifically, we have identified these areas of concern with respect to policies and regulations 2530 (Library Resource Materials) and 9130 (Public Complaints and Grievances):
Regulation 9130 states that complaints about library books must be made in writing and submitted to the superintendent. We understand that the Board had forewarning of the planned protest against library books prior to its Sept. 28 meeting, yet did nothing to employ or enforce its own policies during that meeting, thereby enabling activist fringe community members to make verbal complaints based solely on false claims originating from an organized, external censorship campaign that has since spread nationwide.
The first Materials Reconsideration forms for Gender Queer and Lawn Boy were submitted to the district on Oct. 6, 2021. Per regulation 9130, a committee to review the complaint regarding the books was to have been formed within ten working days, and we understand that the committee’s first meeting took place on Oct. 18. More than two months have elapsed since that time, yet no decisions have been rendered nor status communicated about these two titles, one of which is a graphic novel that can be read in roughly an hour. This process is neither timely nor efficient and reflects poorly on the overall operation of the district.
Regulation 9130 specifies at least six individuals who should sit on the reconsideration committee, including a librarian and a lay person with expertise in the subject matter of the books, in this case, the LGBTQ+ youth experience. Although, there has been no communication to the public identifying these appointees, reports from those familiar with the process suggest that individuals serving on the committee have been hand-selected for bias that would support the removal of the questioned titles. We understand that as of the Oct. 18 meeting, the committee did not include a young adult librarian or a lay person with appropriate expertise; due to the absence of transparency, we do not know whether those positions have ever been filled. Further we understand that Dr. Cottrell, who was an active participant in the attempt to ban Fun Home in 2019, is sitting in judgment of it now as a member of the committee. Failure to treat the composition of the reconsideration committee with fidelity and fairness is an abuse of power and an inappropriate use of both our district’s resources and the Board’s time.
Although regulation 9130 specifies particular individuals who must sit on the reconsideration committee, it does not limit participation to those six. Two of the titles in question, Fun Home and Gender Queer, are graphic novels. Yet, to our knowledge, the reconsideration committee does not include art teachers or others with expertise in visual storytelling, a critical aspect in judging the merit of the works.
Similarly, the voices of students are not represented on the committee. As the October and November board meetings have demonstrated, the district’s students are keenly invested in their right to read freely, yet they have been excluded from participating in the reconsideration process.
District librarians have not been notified when Materials Reconsideration forms have been received, nor have they been provided with copies of the submitted forms, leaving them unaware of new challenges. In fact, librarians learned of a potential challenge to All Boys Aren’t Blue only after noticing unusual purchasing activity on the account of one of the school’s contracted book distributors. Rumors are now circulating within the community that an additional book, Two Boys Kissing, has been challenged. If this is so, the librarians have again not been notified. These lapses suggest that the Board and building administrators are negligent in communication and transparency. In a public school system, all stakeholders should be entitled to this information, particularly when emotions are running so high and the criteria for the school library collection explicitly state that no material may be removed because “it is unpopular or offensive to some.”
In the event of book challenges, policy 2530 clearly states that the “integrity of the library/media personnel” must be defended; yet the board accepted silently the slanderous comments made about NHHS librarian Martha Hickson on September 28th and has failed to defend her integrity in the months since.
We understand that it must be difficult to endure the ongoing debate from both sides of this issue, and your commitment to serving our students and the community is laudable. But continued silence and absence of transparency are only making matters worse.
The failure to address these public complaints does nothing to further learning nor wellness. In fact, the caustic language and rude behavior of the book banners at your Board meetings are actually traumatizing students, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community. On the other hand, the inclusion of these award-winning, positively reviewed books in the library collections upholds the district’s goal to “provide the necessary supports to address and assist students … with mental health, overall wellness and emotional needs.”
Therefore, we request that these unacceptable delays and policy lapses be resolved, that timely communication be provided, and that transparent processes be implemented. Please provide detailed status or closure of the materials reconsideration process prior to the meeting on January 25th.
The Intellectual FReadom Coalition
Mary Fran Daley, MLIS, Town of Clinton
Lynn Munro, Union Township
Ellen Pozzi, PhD, William Paterson University
Alexa Offenhauer, PhD, Town of Clinton
Sara Varga, Lebanon Township
Alyssa Valenti, MS, MLS