Prosser School Board questions library book selection policy

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMarch 10, 2013 

PROSSER -- A new policy to direct book selections for school libraries could be on the horizon.

Vivian Jennings, the district librarian, recently told the Prosser School Board about how she acquires books for the district's elementary, middle and high schools. The district recently had two library books challenged by Prosser High School social studies teacher Rich Korb.

Jennings said she has withheld or restricted some books because of their content. Board members and administrators praised her work, especially on the challenged books, but said the district needs a policy to guide book selection.

"Our challenge process works fine but we can help on the front end a bit," said board Chairman Tim Rankin.

Korb called for the district to remove Dave Pelzer's A Child Called It, which talks about child abuse, and one of the books in The Popularity Papers series by Amy Ignatow, which has a character with two fathers.

The Pelzer book is at Housel Middle School and limited to seventh- and eighth-graders with parent permission, while the Ignatow book is at two elementary schools and limited to fifth-graders only.

Jennings told board members there are numerous ways books are selected for the libraries, from reviews in professional journals to suggestions from community members. However, whether a book is put on the shelves rests with her, and she has kept some books out, even if they were recommended.

"There have been occasions when some (books) have been too mature," she told the board.

Board member Win Taylor raised questions about how Jennings is the only authority to approve books for the libraries, and there is no one she has to run her choices by. It's also difficult for parents to know what's in the libraries and protest something they don't approve.

"The only avenue they have is this cumbersome challenge process if they find out about it," he said.

Tolcacher, Rankin and board member Gayle Wheeler said Jennings responded well to concerns about the two books and has done a good job. Rankin said it ultimately is up to parents to know what their children are reading and to screen their choices.

However, there is nothing to guide Jennings' selections, unlike with other reading materials in the district's classrooms. Even having a reading panel could be a benefit, board members and administrators said.

"If there was anything that was at fault in this, it was we didn't have a policy," Tolcacher said.

The district's Instructional Materials Committee voted to keep the two challenged books in the libraries under their current restrictions a few weeks ago. It is now up to Superintendent Ray Tolcacher to make a recommendation on the books to the board.

Jennings told the Herald she's also not heard from any more parents wanting to limit access to the books.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402;; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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