Members of the policy committee of the Cumberland County Board of Education want the decision to remove a book from schools to rest with the BOE.
“If the decision is to remove a book, the school board ought to be the one determining whether a book is going to be taken off the shelf or not,” said Jim Inman, member of the policy committee.
The committee has been reviewing the reconsideration of materials policy which addresses textbooks and instructional materials approved by the board as well as library books or other materials used in schools.
Two recent challenges of materials has found the policy in need of changes to make it clear what happens when a book is challenged and the process to re-evaluate those materials.
“This policy doesn’t address what you do if a parent wants a book removed from their child’s school and all others,” said Rebecca Wood, assistant director of curriculum, instruction and accountability.
Homestead Elementary Principal Robin Pinder questioned why a book deemed in need of removal from one school would not be removed from other schools.
“Personally, I’m against censorship and would never want a book removed, but that could open up a can of worms,” Pinder said.
The committee also questioned removing materials during the reconsideration process. In the recent challenge of “Paper Towns” by John Green, books were gathered from all schools to ensure there were adequate copies of the material for the committee to review it in its entirety. However, there was difficulty in gathering all those copies as some were checked out and students were reading them as part of Accelerated Reading.
“If a teacher has given some options for a reading assignment and you choose a challenged book, that puts the teacher in the position of scrambling and re-evaluating what they are doing at the moment,” Director of Schools Donald Andrews said.
Richard Janeway, 2nd District representative, said, “That’s not fair to the student. They’ve not had a problem with it. If you pull it, that one book could mean they make their [Accelerated Reading] goal or not.”
Pinder added library books often become textbooks.
“We’re using them to teach with, even though they have some selection in that and some alternative materials,” she said. Each grade level has a list of protected books, which are books taught on that grade level and other grade levels agree not to teach them.
There are no “banned” books in Cumberland County. A challenge several years ago of “Catcher in the Rye” removed that 1951 novel from a required reading list for an advanced placement senior English class. The review committee for “Paper Towns” determined the book should be returned to library shelves.
The committee also discussed how to form a review committee for a county-wide challenge, noting that would be placing the responsibility for a recommendation in the hands of one school. The committee had previously discussed a county-wide committee to review textbooks and other board-approved materials. The committee thought it best to use that process for all questioned materials, including teachers, administrators, parents and students from multiple schools.
Under the proposal, the committee will present a recommendation to the director of schools. If the recommendation is to return the books to the shelves, the complainant may appeal the decision to the Cumberland County Board of Education or the director may choose forward the request to the BOE for action to remove the book. If the committee and director recommend removal of the book, that recommendation would go to the board for action.
“Anyone who feels strongly enough about a book to go through this procedure would want it to apply to the whole county,” Wood said.
Janeway moved to return the policy to the Tennessee School Boards Association and BOE Attorney Earl Patton for review, with Josh Stone, 4th District representative, supporting the motion. It was unanimously approved.
Jon Hall, principal of Cumberland County High School, asked the committee for permission to waive the policy concerning use of personal communication devices in schools.
“We’re fighting a losing battle and we’re spending too much time dealing with this,” Hall said.
After conferring with Principal Scott Maddox at Stone Memorial High School, the two would like to pilot a trial period where students would be allowed to use their cell phones during lunch and between classes.
“But, with giving them that freedom, we would also increase the penalty for using it outside those times from detention to Saturday school,” Hall said.
The trial period would begin when students return from spring break March 29 and continue through the end of the year.
“I don’t know what the right answer is,” Hall said. “Cell phones are a part of our society. We have teachers who use apps in class…We hope to alleviate some of our trouble.”
The committee agreed to ask the BOE to waive the policy for high schools for the final nine weeks of school.