Prosser School Board to review book selection, library policies tonight

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 3, 2013 

The Prosser School Board is reviewing its policies on school libraries and book selections following recent debate about whether to keep two books on the shelves.

The board is expected to receive information on the policies at its meeting tonight at 7 p.m.

Some board members have said the district needs more straightforward guidelines on how books are selected for libraries, how parents can learn what books are available, and how to challenge those selections as inappropriate.

Earlier this year, Prosser High School teacher Rich Korb challenged the inclusion of two books in some of the district's school libraries. Both books remain on the shelves after the board, in a split decision, declined to remove them.

The district's current policy on libraries, which is several pages long, generally reflects a recommended policy from the Washington State School Director's Association. The district policy says a school library is meant to support curriculum and reading for pleasure, be suited for students and encourage learning about the broader world.

Prosser's policy also includes a process for protesting a book's presence in libraries and delineates how books are selected, with the district librarian relying on catalogs, databases and review journals for information.

One of the books Korb challenged, A Child Called It, is an autobiography of author Dave Pelzer's childhood abuse at the hands of his alcoholic mother. The other, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, is about the lives of two girls -- one who has two fathers -- seeking the secret to being popular in middle school.

The books are not required reading. A Child Called It is available at Housel Middle School, but only to seventh- and eighth-graders who have parental permission to read it. The Popularity Papers is available for checkout at two elementary schools, but only for fifth-graders.

Korb said the books contain overly graphic content and advance a political agenda, making them unfit for placement in school libraries.

An appointed committee of teachers, administrators, parents and a student suggested keeping the books. Superintendent Ray Tolcacher supported their recommendation, leading Korb to appeal to the school board.

The board ended up deadlocking on the issue, meaning Tolcacher's decision stands and the books remain.

Discussion was sometimes tense, with board members debating whether books in the library should only be connected to curriculum or also be used to encourage reading for pleasure. At one meeting, the district's teachers' union president accused one board member of persecuting the district's librarian, Vivian Jennings, over the inclusion of Pelzer's and Ignatow's works in the libraries.

In the end, board President Tim Rankin and member Win Taylor called for a review of the district's policies.

"I really want to help our parents," Rankin said at one recent meeting.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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