Book committee meets to take on reviewing challenged books

By Heather Michon

The Learning Resources Review Committee (LRC) and its newly appointed citizen representatives met for the first time on Jan. 30 to discuss how they would tackle the two dozen library books challenged for alleged inappropriate content late last year.

But the public, for the most part, didn’t hear about the meeting until after it was over.

This lack of public notice was “curious and somewhat alarming,” parent Ashley Crocker told the School Board at the top of its meeting on Wednesday night (Feb. 14).

Gemma Soares, Director of Elementary Instruction, said the meeting had focused primarily on “forming norms,” not on the content of any of the challenged titles.

Like all school advisory committees, the meeting time and location were published on the division’s calendar, but Soares agreed it would only be seen by members of the public “if you know where to look.”

“There was absolutely no intention on anybody’s part to hide that work from the public,” said Superintendent Peter Gretz.

The LRC has existed since 1994, but until last month, it was made up of educators and librarians. 

Following citizen complaints about books in the Fluvanna County High School collection, the School Board voted to expand the committee to include a citizen representative from each of the county’s five voting districts.

Now an 11-member committee, the LRC will have the authority to retain or remove books from the collection by a majority vote, subject to appeal to the superintendent or the School Board.

After talking with concerned citizens, Gretz said it was clear “it is not just another advisory committee,” and LRC meetings would have to be advertised more widely to allow the public the opportunity to attend.

Soares pointed to extensive notes on the Jan. 30 meeting, showing that members had focused on the logistics of reviewing such a large number of books.

Some of the discussion focused on the origins of the list of books submitted for challenge. 

An attached document showed Brittany Gray, a former candidate for the School Board, submitted a single form on November 10, 2023, with a link to a Google Drive folder titled “Spotsy Book Excerpts” created by a Henrico-based group called Virginians for Children First.

Of the 24 titles submitted, only 16 were in the FCHS library. The LRC will review those titles in the coming weeks and months.

School Board Chair Andrew Pullen (Columbia) said parents should always be able to submit books for review if they find objectionable content, “but don’t just take a list off the internet and create this workload. Honestly, to me, that just demonstrates that it’s not a genuine issue, it’s a political issue.”

Schedule scramble

The School Board was scheduled to approve its Fiscal Year 2025 (FY25) budget at the Feb. 14 meeting and give its budget presentation to the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 21, but those dates have changed.

Now, it looks like budget adoption will take place on Feb. 28, and the presentation to the supervisors on March 6. 

Like schools all across Virginia, FCPS is still waiting on information from the state on what they can expect in funding for FY25 – data that can have a significant impact on what the schools ask from local governments.

A clearer picture on state funding should be available by early March, but Gretz warned that the sheer number of education bills still moving through the legislature means “there’s potential chaos around getting something, and I think the closer we get to the 6th, the better chance we have of seeing what they’re going to do.”

Student representative

The School Board has been working to re-establish the pre-pandemic practice of having a student representative join in their meetings. 

While student representatives don’t participate in votes or sit in on closed meetings, it gives them experience in civic governance and gives board members some insight into student life.

FCHS senior Diver Davis will serve as student representative for the remainder of the school year. 

Gretz said Davis “embodied the spirit of teamwork and camaraderie [and] as a dedicated athlete, he understands the significance of togetherness.”

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