(Lander, WY) – Fremont County School District #1 policy IJLA – Public Complaints About the Curriculum or Instructional Materials is currently under review by the school board, and so far, two proposals for policy changes have been submitted to the board – one from Aileen Brew and one from Scott Jensen – both school board members.
A new policy would update how the district approaches complaints about books and other instructional materials.
The biggest difference between the two proposed policies is whether or not there is a review committee.
Brew’s draft policy emphasizes the need to formalize a review committee or reconsideration committee to review formal complaints and provide a more measured and objective response to challenged materials.
Jensen’s draft policy says the board might appoint a committee, but that wouldn’t be a default.
“In my opinion, the board is a committee,” he said. “We are the democratically elected representatives of the community and we should, if it gets to that point, … be able to evaluate the material and decide whether or not it belongs. And then we should have the courage to stand up for what we’re arguing, and that would all happen in public. At a public meeting, so it would also not be in the dark. It would be transparent.”
In addition to establishing a review committee, Brew’s policy has three other main points:
“My policy serves to underscore the importance of diverse learning materials to deepen our students’ educational experiences. And I really believe that libraries have a special place because they’re a place for voluntary inquiry, where students can explore, and I think we need to realize that in rural communities, libraries are windows to the world in really important and wonderful ways.
“My policy definitely wants to reinforce and support the solid and effective work of our librarians. And the very effective informal system that they currently have in use for handling complaints. So that is part of my policy.
“We welcome and encourage parents and guardians and stakeholders to guide their students’ reading and viewing and listening. And we expect and hope that our parents and guardians and stakeholders will allow every other person that right to guide their own child’s learning path.”
Jensen is keen on making sure his policy is as transparent as possible.
“Librarians from all our schools have told us that it’s exceedingly rare that somebody has a complaint about a book,” he said. “So I wouldn’t expect that this comes up often, but if that were to come up, I want us to welcome the feedback. So that would be one thing that I’m looking to change. And if you look at the different versions, hopefully, you would see that that’s the case in the version I’m proposing compared to the old one. The process really isn’t going to be substantially different, except that the other thing that I want to accomplish is to make it transparent. So I don’t want a book to be removed in the dark. This is something that should be known.”
Brew’s draft policy aligns closely with the current policy, which includes a first step to resolve a complaint with the teacher, librarian, or building principal, and if an agreement is not reached, the complaint would ultimately go before the review committee. The committee would consist of the chairperson, which is essentially the coordinator from the curriculum committee, one parent or community member, an appropriate administrator (someone from school leadership or the central office), a language arts or reading specialist, and a library media specialist. In certain cases, it might be appropriate to have a student participate as well, she noted.
Jensen’s draft policy also has a similar first step to resolving a complaint. However, if it’s decided that a book or material should be removed, that would get documented on the district’s website, so parents and community members could easily access it. The next escalation point would be the superintendent and then, finally, the school board.
Both policies very clearly want parent, guardian, and community member feedback on what materials are being taught within the district and what books are in the libraries.
The two proposed drafts have their second reading on Tuesday, June 20.