Library Material Destroyed, Teacher Fired, and Policy Not Followed at Utah Elementary School

Academic Freedom, Artwork & Illustrations, education, Minors, Policies, School Libraries

By: Allyson Mower

View of Hyrum, Utah provided by BLM
Hyrum, Utah

The Herald Journal reported last week that Jeni Buist, principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Hyrum, Utah, shredded several postcard reproductions of artwork from the library’s copy of The Art Box, a collection published by Phaidon. The principal did so at the request of Cache County School District, according to the report. Parents and students had complained about nudity contained in the art reproductions after the school’s art teacher, Mateo Rueda, had assigned students to use The Art Box to locate notable paintings. The report also indicated that the teacher lost his job because “someone filed a classroom pornography complaint against him” which the Cache County Sheriff’s Office quickly dismissed.

Did the school district violate its library policy? And what about Mateo Rueda’s academic freedom?

According to the school district’s library policy obtained from the district’s website, it appears they violated their own policy. The policy indicates that library content can be considered for removal by professional library staff for the following reasons:

a.  poor physical condition;

b.  superseded by more current information or contain subject matter no longer needed to support the curriculum;

c.  receiving little use;

d.  providing wrong, inaccurate, or dated information; or

e.  encouraging stereotypes or biases;

f.  material deemed inappropriate for the library community;

Image of Lincoln Elementary provided by the Cache County School District
Lincoln Elementary, Cache County School District, Utah

The policy allows for parents to restrict access to content for their own children, but must go through a more formal challenge process if intending to restrict access for other students. Under the policy, even if a work is challenged, it needs to remains accessible while being reviewed by a committee. Nothing in the policy says the decision to shred art reproductions from a collection in the library can be made solely by a principal, superintendent or other district employee.

It seems that the intellectual freedom of Lincoln Elementary students has not been served as provided for in policy.

As for the teacher’s academic freedom, he doesn’t have much, unfortunately. Most public school teachers don’t. According to the district’s instruction policy, “all classes to be taught and all textbooks [emphasis added] to be used in the Cache County public schools will be approved in advance by the Assistant Superintendent and\or the Supervisor in charge of instruction.” Based on the Herald Journal report, it sounds like the teacher may have possibly assigned an unapproved textbook. But what about the academic freedom to supplement an approved textbook? Cache County’s policy does not mention whether or not this is allowed, and I suppose that might be what’s at stake for Mateo Rueda. I personally think that teachers should have that type of flexibility. This could be noted in an instruction policy as a way to help communicate the trust public schools place in their teachers as professionals whose duty remains to impart knowledge and facilitate students’ intellectual exploration.

The question of academic freedom aside, the Cache County School District and its superintendent, at the very least, need to adhere to their own library policy in order to ensure students’ intellectual freedom.

 


Allyson MowerAllyson Mower, MA, MLIS is Head of Scholarly Communication & Copyright at the University of Utah Marriott Library. She’s very curious about curiosity, what drives people to uncover information, and how libraries of all types create demand for knowledge. As a tenured faculty member, she researches the history of academic freedom — a kind of intellectual freedom — and the history of authorship and scholarly communication at the institution. She provides the U of U community and the general public with information, tools, and services related to both copyright and publishing. Allyson was a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2008, was nominated as a 2012 Society for Scholarly Publishing Emerging Leader, and served as the U of U Academic Senate President in 2014. Find her on Twitter @allysonmower.

2 comments

  • Even without the academic freedom enjoyed by post-secondary teachers, weren’t Mr. Rueda’s employment rights violated, being fired rather than informed of the problem and given the chance to address the issue through compliance or challenge? Can the OIF help him? If teachers are made to fear termination, the students’ freedoms are unacceptably compromised.

  • You make a good point, Stephanie. I’ve not studied Utah’s general employment laws as they relate to elementary school teachers and am not certain what employment rights might exist. It would be useful information to have, though. As for OIF helping him, Mr. Rueda came to an agreement with the school district and issued the following joint statement:

    “The Cache County School District and Mateo Rueda are strong supporters of the arts and how they enrich the lives of students. The top priority and greatest concern of both the District and Mr. Rueda is that children receive the best education possible. The conflict between the district and Mr. Rueda has now been resolved in a manner that is satisfactory to both parties, and the Cache County School District has now withdrawn any indication that Mr. Rueda was terminated from his employment. However, because simply reinstating Mr. Rueda to his position as the art teacher may be disruptive to the students and educators involved, the parties simply agree that Mr. Rueda may reapply to any position within the Cache County School District, and do so without any negative impact from the events leading to his past departure. By agreement with Mr. Rueda, the Cache County School District will be reevaluating its art materials and policies.”

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