G-E-T schools begin overhaul of library media complaint process

Removing a book or other resource from a library within the Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau School District will soon require a different process, and a public committee will be the final step in that process.

The school district is in the midst of overhauling its media selection and removal policies, and the new changes were presented for the first time at last Monday’s school board meeting.

There was no board discussion on the policies, which will need a second reading and final approval by the board in the future.

Proposed amendments to district policies come after the fallout of the recent debate over whether G-E-T Middle School should continue to house the book “Queer Ducks (and Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality”, which ended with the school electing to keep the book on its shelves and resulted in the resignation of former board member Paul Kinzer as well as former board president Larry Moore stepping down from his lead role.

Changes presented last week include:

• Considering the merit of a possible new item in the library based on reviews by professional journals or bibliographies.

• The addition of the district curriculum director as someone who oversees and maintains the library’s list of available books and resources while still also relying on the building principal and library media specialists in the decisions.

The policy also acknowledges that the purpose of the library is to give students a wide variety of viewpoints and educational opportunities.

The “weeding”—or removal—of resources shall be due to materials being obsolete, excessively damaged, distracting, unused or duplicates of other resources.

“District personnel shall not remove/relocate or recommend the removal or relocation of any LMC resource based upon their personal disagreement with or personal objection to the ideas, opinions, or perspectives presented in the resources or due to any preferences of non-District persons or groups,” the revised policy rule 361.2 on selection and management of library materials reads.

Changes to removal process would push committee to last step

After blowback and concerns over how an assembled committee first handled the proposed removal of “Queer Ducks”, a new policy on removal would push such a committee to the last step in the process.

School board president Pat Malone spoke in favor of the proposed new policy last Thursday.

“I’m really pleased with the hard work and commitment both the staff and board members showed as they crafted the new policy and rule. They did not dawdle, they got right down to it,” Malone told the Times.

Someone concerned with a library material such as a book can submit a written complaint to the district. The complaint form was also restructured after the recent concerns at G-E-T Middle School.

The new policy indicates a complainant is encouraged to discuss their concerns over a library item with the school principal or library media director prior to submitting a complaint to either the principal or curriculum director.

Complaints will be forwarded to the principal of the building that hosts the library resource of concern. The principal will need to make an initial decision on whether to remove the material unless the district administrator appoints someone else to make the decision or the district administrator decides on a different resolution procedure due to legal requirements such as Title IX.

The initial decision maker will need to dismiss the complaint, refer the complaint to a materials review committee or respond to the complaint, either granting or denying the request to remove the material.

The district administrator would need to approve the permanent removal of a resource if the initial decision maker chooses this option. 

Some reasons a complaint would be dismissed include a complainant not having a connection to the district, an individualized request that does not require complete removal or if it is redundant of a recent complaint that has been finalized.

A complainant will have 14 days after the decision to submit to the district office an appeal of the decision to dismiss or deny a removal request, and the district administrator will make a decision to affirm or reverse the dismissal of the complaint.

The district administrator can also choose to refer the material to a materials review committee as was done with the “Queer Ducks” book. This committee would be composed of a library media specialist, an administrator, two teachers and a parent or community member.

This is a different setup than the previous rule, which saw the materials resource committee as the first step in the process.

Malone likes that the committee is later in the process and said the new policy fits the district well, adding that she appreciates the public sharing concerns and opinions with the board.

“It makes it clear that if it gets to the point of that committee that it’s an open, public meeting that has to follow open meeting laws. They improved the form that people use to submit a concern, and one of the things I really like about that is it says if you have an issue, go to the person you have an issue with, whether it’s the librarian or building principal. Doesn’t it make sense to go to that person you have a concern or issue with and if you don’t like the result you move up the line,” Malone said.

“That just makes so much sense to me. … I think it really improves the policy, and we didn’t dawdle. We got right on it.”

The school board could be the final decision maker in the process if a complainant appeals the administrator decision, but the school board can also elect to create a materials review committee if one was not formed by the administrator in this step as well.

The recent “Queer Ducks” committee elected to block the book, which means parents can restrict their children from checking out an individual book but leaves it on the shelf for others. “Six to eight” middle school parents have utilized the option to restrict books from their children since the vote, G-E-T District Administrator Michele Butler told the Times last week.

Some parents wanted their children to not be able to check out books tagged ‘YA’ for Young Adults. Butler did not believe that any family only had “Queer Ducks” on their restricted list but couldn’t say for certain as it is handled by each school building at registration.

If a library resource goes through the removal and hearing process, there is a way to restrict the book from becoming an ongoing issue — according to the policy, there is a limit to complaints.

“Upon completion of a formal reconsideration process, the district reserves the right to refuse further reconsideration requests on the same educational material or on the same topic within five years,” the policy reads.

The new board policies were constructed based on the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) policy resource guide, which has several options for schools, Butler said.

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