Hempfield Area to resume book battles next week

After months of discussions, it came back to the drawing board of the Hempfield Area School District’s Book Policy Committee.

The debate over what titles should go on school library shelves and what procedures can be used to deal with material questioned for graphic violence or pornography will be debated again at school board meetings.

Last week, a board policy committee that includes four board members failed to agree on a proposed policy for the book challenge. This will be discussed again at the November 21 School Board meeting. The School Board has established policies for the selection of resource materials for the library and for the review of instructional materials by students and parents.

For months, the board has grappled with challenges from parents who claim some books are inappropriate for students and should be removed from high school libraries. This spring, a small group of parents challenged two books: All the Boys Are Not Blue, about growing up as a queer black boy, and Black Friends: About Being Better White People.” These books went through the proper review process and were not removed.

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Director Dianne Ciabattoni opposed the proposed third-tier review process, which would add the option to appeal the review board’s decision. She favored a two-step process, with an informal review followed by a formal review, without the need for an appeal.

“No one is happy with three steps. I think three steps is too much,” Ciabattoni said.

Director and chairman of the board Tony Bompiani said the current review process is not working. As an example, he points to the book “All Boys Are Not Blue” because of its pornographic content.

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“We’ve put books under the radar. Something was missing (in the process),” Bompiani said.

He supports policies targeting library books not related to the curriculum.

“Extreme sexual content should not be allowed,” Bompiani said.

Director Jennifer Bretz agrees with Bompiani.

“We have to have faith in parents. ‘All boys aren’t blue’ — it disgusts everyone,” Bretz said.

Librarian Jenny Smith said there are different policies for library books and course materials. Opponents can choose not to use that source, Smith said. Books in the library can broaden students’ horizons and expose them to different cultures and ways of life, she said.

District Attorney Krisha DiMascio said the biggest problem is purchasing books, but knowing the contents of every book picked for the library is unrealistic.

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Beth McGuire, librarian and district library director at Wendover Middle School, said the books were purchased based on a variety of factors, including how they supported the curriculum. McGuire also said she relies on professional reviews of books from organizations such as the American Library Association and School Library Journal.

“I don’t have confidence in ALA,” Bompiani said.

Superintendent Tammy Wlicki said she was concerned about the process of allowing a person to take a book.

“Who decides what is sexually explicit? It still has to be one’s judgment … somebody’s opinion,” Wlicki said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Tribune Review. You can reach Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .


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