Committee to evaluate high school library books holds second meeting

By Heather Michon

Members of the Learning Resources Review Committee met Thursday evening (Feb. 22) at the Fluvanna County High School Library for their second meeting following the appointment of five citizen representatives at the School Board meeting on Jan. 10.

The group of 11, comprised of librarians, school administrators, and citizens, has been tasked with reading and evaluating a group of around two dozen books challenged by a Fluvanna resident on the grounds that they contained “sexually explicit” material.

This list was submitted in November by former School Board candidate Brittany Gray. It was constructed from a list of frequently challenged books that matched entries in the FCHS library catalog.

At their Jan. 30 meeting, the group whittled down the original list from 24 titles to 16, as some of the books had been lost or removed from the collection due to low circulation or wear and tear. 

On Thursday night, Cunningham District representative Amanda Mauck told the committee that two of the books on the shortened lists didn’t have corresponding excerpts in a Google Drive file Gray had submitted with her complaint.

Mauck said she had read both ‘Shine,’ by Lauren Myracle and ‘Something Like Normal’ by Trish Doller since the January meeting and “I tried to find something in each book that I was like, okay, this is what they were talking about, and I could not.”

She said both books dealt with violence and trauma but contained no sexually explicit passages.

“I’m of the opinion that the onus is on the complainant to submit and document the problem,” said Fork Union representative Nikki Sheridan. “And it’s unclear to us at this time what the problem is. I don’t think that’s our work.”

Committee Chair Gemma Soares, director of elementary Instruction for FCPS, said she would contact Gray for clarification.

Removing those two titles still leaves the committee a whopping 4,937 pages to read.

Rather than all 11 members reading every book, they decided to break into three groups tasked with reading 3 to 4 books each.

Soares said she had sourced used books to help reduce some of the cost to the taxpayers; the initial cost of buying new copies of each book for all committee members was estimated at around $1,600.

FCHS Librarian Shannon Taylor handed out packets of professional reviews of each book, a tool librarians use to decide if books are a good fit for their collection.

Members will read their assigned books and professional reviews, then fill out a criteria form evaluating each book’s quality, readability, and appropriateness. After discussion within their small groups, they will recommend what to do about each title. How long this will take is still unknown.

“Do we have to have it done by the end of the [school] year?” asked Rivanna District representative Tia Brown. 

Soares said there was no hard deadline to complete the work.

“Then I say we give ourselves the time we need as full-time working adults,” said Brown. 

For now, the committee will meet monthly and start with just one book to see if the process needs to be tweaked. Meetings have been set for March 28 and April 18.

The committee is already discussing the outlines of recommendations they might give to the School Board to refine the policy going forward.

There was general agreement that the number of book challenges any one resident could make should be capped at a reasonable number and that the same book could not be challenged more than once in a period of years.

Soares confirmed that there have been no new challenges since early November.

Soares said she had reached out to counseling staff to provide the group with guidance on social and emotional development in teenagers.

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