Challenges to books in Polk County Schools discussed at Board of Education’s monthly meeting

Published 12:37 pm Tuesday, May 10, 2022

A group of Polk County citizens continues to work with school administrators at Polk County High School to address community challenges to the presence of a few books in the school media center.


PCHS Principal Dr. Brandon Schweitzer answered questions about the book challenge process during Monday’s monthly meeting of the Polk County Board of Education, held at Stearns Education Center in Columbus.

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Schweitzer noted that the committee, which meets bi-weekly, initially formed after complaints were received about 16 books in the school’s media center. Two more books have since been challenged. None of the complaints originated from students but instead came from community members.


Schweitzer said providing a balanced process for reviewing the challenged books provided the impetus for forming the community-led committee, which is composed of five local residents, a PCHS teacher, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jan Crump and Schweitzer.


“I think it was important to hear the viewpoints and have a diverse committee, to be able to work through those things,” Schweitzer said. “We certainly didn’t want to be in a position where we were making kind of a unilateral decision with a small group of people in a vacuum. It’s important to hear that perspective from our community.


“We reached out initially to the individuals that initiated the first two challenges just to see if they would be willing to serve on that committee and they declined. But then we asked if there were any representatives they felt like would be good picks for that board. They gave us a few names.”


Schweitzer said the committee spent some time establishing processes, reviewing case law and understanding how the media center functions before actually beginning to work through each book. The committee is taking time to read each of the 16 works, a process which is expected to last through the summer.


In response to a question, Schweitzer noted that presenting exact checkout data for each book is not a clear-cut process due to the length of time each work has been present in the media center as well as several other factors.


“Our circulation count all the way across our entire media center is very low, and when you take a look at a lot of these different novels, our circulation counts average between 15 to 18 times in the last 10 years or so, some of them as low as five circulations,” he said.


When asked to speculate about the motives of those issuing book challenges, Schweitzer instead offered praise to those community members and shared some insight into how students have reacted to the challenges.


“Parents, in general, are concerned about their children and worried about what they have access to in schools. I think that’s not to be overlooked and it’s a good thing,” he said. “I certainly encourage more parental involvement in education. I think that’s definitely a positive as we move forward.


“I think kids are a little bit confused by what we’re doing and what’s going on. I’ll give you an example – as one of the comments that was made to me recently was, I don’t think that older generations understand that the modern media center is not utilized the way they were when they were in school. They have access to an infinite amount of books on their cell phone and anything they want on Amazon or Kindle. The old school print libraries are not necessarily the primary means in which teenagers engage in that.”


Schweitzer also noted there is an existing process that any parent or guardian can use to request their student not have access to specific books. He also said that administrators have  reviewed all curriculum-related assignments and found no challenged books had been assigned this academic year.


Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene reiterated that no final decisions have been made on any of the challenged books, and that district administration will update the board and the public when the process is complete.


In other business conducted by the board:

* Tryon Elementary teacher Mandy Wolfe and Principal Kevin Weis made a presentation to the board regarding Tryon Elementary being recognized as a “Purple Star” school for its focus on students and staff from military families

* Academically and Intellectually Gifted (AIG) Program Coordinator Kimberly Granville presented the district’s AIG plan, and Crump presented the district’s Summer Learning plan with both receiving approval from the board.

* Child Nutrition Director Jennifer Peeler gave an update on the Summer Feeding Program and the different organizations and programs she will be helping with to feed kids over the summer

* The board approved the recent budget amendments submitted by Finance Officer Debbie Lovelace, the disbursement of state Supplemental Funds for Teacher Compensation to eligible staff in early June, and a cost-of-living adjustment for the district’s Head Start program.

* The board approved the YMCA’s use of Tryon Elementary and Polk Central Elementary for their summer day camps pending legal review of documentation

* Assistant Superintendent Dave Scherping provided an update on a recent funding award for a preschool addition to Tryon Elementary’s campus and the ongoing HVAC work at Polk County High School

* The board voted to approve a move of the regular July meeting date to June 27 for the purpose of closing out the fiscal year.

* The board voted unanimously to continue with optional masking and its current approach to the handling of COVID-19 cases.

* Greene reminded the board of upcoming dates for end-of-year celebrations and ceremonies such as Awards Nights and Graduation, and informed the board of the district’s Educator Appreciation Month activities.