By DAVID MUSTONEN
For the Times-Herald
DEARBORN — Dearborn Public Schools on Oct. 5 released its new criteria for how books in school libraries will be evaluated and how parents can address concerns they have about specific titles.
The district plans to continue to offer a robust and diverse collection of reading materials for its 20,100 students, but is creating a more formal structure to review the age-appropriateness of materials, especially in regard to issues such as sexually explicit or violent content.
The district has also created a digital form parents can use to limit specific titles their child may access. The Parent Opt Out for Media Materials form will be posted on the district’s website under the Parent/Community Member Portal page. Parents can use the form to keep their child from accessing certain materials or to completely opt their child out of checking any items out of the media centers. This is similar to the option parents have long had to pull their child from reproductive health classes.
“We realize the community has many strong feelings on both sides of the issue of limiting student access to some books,” Supt. Glenn Maleyko said. “We work hard to make sure our schools are welcoming, safe spaces for all students, and our libraries will continue to reflect that as well.
“However, we are also aware that the vast majority of students in our care are minors, still learning about life and the world, and they are not ready emotionally or intellectually to process some content.”
DPS has almost 500,000 physical books, representing more than 300,000 unique titles in its library catalog system. Schools are currently undergoing a two-pronged approach to review their collections.
First, employees are conducting complete inventories to ensure the catalog reflects what books are actually on the shelves and that missing titles are removed from the list.
Secondly, the district’s media specialists are reviewing their schools’ collections, removing books that students are no longer using, that are out-of-date, or that are not age appropriate for that school level. Media specialists have several resources they can use to help determine age appropriateness including the publisher’s recommended age level and a number of organizations that specifically review books for students. Given the size of the district’s collection, this weeding process is not expected to be completed this year.
Students and parents can find their child’s library book catalog on the district’s website under the Parent/Community Member Portal page.
“We realize our families have a wide variety of viewpoints on any number of issues, and it’s unrealistic to think our school libraries can meet every individual need,” Maleyko said. “We encourage parents who are concerned about specific titles to use the Opt Out form. And of course we encourage all parents to help their children use the wonderful Dearborn Public Library to find reading material they deem appropriate for their child.”
Parents who are truly concerned about having a specific book in a school can also go through a book challenge process to ask that the book be removed.
That process starts with a parent contacting the media specialist at their child’s school to request a book be re-evaluated. The parents’ book challenge should include the book title, author and some specific reasons the parent feels the book is inappropriate for that grade level.
A group of at least five media specialists from across the district will then re-examine the age appropriateness of that book, considering the parents’ specific concern in addition to the recommendations and reviews used to initially include books in the district’s collection.
The parent who filed the challenge will then be notified of the results of that initial review. If the media specialists feel the book should remain in the collection, the parent will be given the option of asking for a Book Reconsideration.
When that happens, a small committee of district staff and parents will read the book and evaluate it based on the district’s age-appropriateness criteria. The committee will consist of a rotating group of staff and parents or community members with a moderator provided by the district.
The Book Reconsideration Committee can opt to allow the book to remain, limit it to a higher grade level, or have the book removed from the school libraries.
Parents interested in serving on the committee can ask to be added through the Book Reconsideration Member Volunteer form. To serve on a committee, a volunteer must agree to read the book in question in its entirety, review information on why the media specialists deemed it appropriate, and to participate in a civil discussion about whether the book is appropriate at that grade level.
The updated Guidelines for the Selection and Review of Media Materials notes, “Each parent or guardian has the right to determine the appropriateness of library resources for their children and should afford the same right to other families.”
Community members can also learn more about the district’s book review guidelines and media materials in general with a new “School Matters” podcast.
Six books that were already submitted to the district for a book challenge will be the first to go through the initial review process. Depending on the outcome of that review, the parent who raised the concerns could then ask for a Book Reconsideration.
The district is also working with Wayne RESA on options to limit certain titles through their digital school library program for parents who request that and hopes to soon be offering digital books again to students.
“We appreciate patience from our parents and community members as we implement this new process,” Maleyko said. “Reading and critical thinking are enormously important life skills, and we are always working to find the balance between encouraging our students to explore the wonders of the written word, while ensuring they can do so with age-appropriate material.”