Good News: They Followed the Policy!

Censorship, Policies

By: Kate Lechtenberg

I have a confession to make: sometimes I hate writing the Intellectual Freedom News

It’s important work, and I’m glad to do it. Every week, I scan the headlines, looking for the week’s happenings in censorship, privacy, access to information, and First Amendment issues. Then I choose articles, categorize them, compile the newsletter and then after the OIF staff edit it, it gets send out to all of you to keep you updated on the state of intellectual freedom in the country and world.

But often, it’s the most depressing part of my week. The privacy articles make me paranoid, the censorship articles bewilder me, the access to information articles make me frustrated at persistent inequality, and the campus speech and First Amendment articles make me want to scream. In some ways, the hours I spend preparing the IF news are like a preview of the impending democratic apocalypse.

But sometimes, there are bright jewels in the dark news.  Sometimes, valient intellectual freedom fighters prevail and our readers’ and citizens’ rights are preserved. Sometimes, institutions respond to book challenges by following their policies as they should. These examples of calm, reasonable adherence to establish policies and procedures really make my day, and I’d like to share them with you.

Silver medal that says “winner” suspended by red white and blue ribbon

And so without further ado, I’d like to unveil the winners of my newly minted “Policy Follower Award!”  

This one comes from my own backyard, and what I loved about this story from my local news station is that, despite the fact that the title of the segment features all the “inappropriate” elements in a book, the result is that the West Des Moines School District’s Director of School/Community Relations emphasizes the importance of student and family choice in reading. “The teacher provided a summary of each of the books and noted that that particular book had mature content so, if the student and/or parent had any concerns, that the parent not select that particular book,” said Laine Mendenhall-Buck. 

The way that Ms. Laine-Mendenhall-Buck affirmed the teachers’ work and supported the importance of choice is just how these situations are supposed to work. According to KCCI, the parent in this story was not satisfied, but should they continue to pursue removing the book, I hope the district continues to follow its policy!

The 57 Bus was challenged at Kirkwood High School in Missouri, and these two sentences show a district’s clear and efficient application of “The district’s decision comes following a parent’s request for a review and reconsideration of the book to Kirkwood administrators and the board of education in February. The book was then reviewed by a district committee.”

I also write in support of the parents in Kirkwood who pushed back at the district’s statements, saying that they needed more communication about the books that their students are being offered. I completely agree that if choice is going to be part of the curriculum, teachers and schools should be very proactive in communicating options to students and their families. In addition, these parents are asking for clear communication about their options for how to monitor their childrens’ reading. In an earlier post, I listed several suggestions for teachers who want to build partnerships with parents about student reading choices.

I am concerned about one aspect of the district’s response. The article says that “parents can still request that their children be “flagged” in the school’s system to not be allowed to check out particular books, according to Bryan Painter, the district’s superintendent of curriculum and instruction.” This sort of “flagging” may sound simple from an administrative perspective, but it’s actually quite complex to consider how a librarian or teacher might actually go about reviewing and “preventing” students to check out books about “flagged” topics. Instead, the best option is always to let the parents do the flagging and to communicate proactively with them so that they can.

This case isn’t exactly about following a policy, but about best practices when responding to accusations of racism. Although some might call it a form of censorship or call-out culture, I call it reflective and responsible publishing practices. In this case, a parent responded to racist elements his children noticed in a book:

In response, Capstone Publishers immediately recognized the truth of Dr. David’s critique, and they responded, “We are mortified and ashamed. You are right to call this book out as racist and we are taking steps to remove it from active sale.”

In today’s world, it is rare to hear people respond with frank admission of making mistakes, especially when accused of racist words or actions. However, as Capstone’s response shows us, the only way to respond to accusations of racism is to reflect honestly, accept responsibility, and do better next time.  

Every person in these articles gets a first place trophy! I respect citizens’ rights to challenge institutional decisions, and I hope these institutions’ actions inspire others to follow their policies as well!

Kate Lechtenberg

Kate Lechtenberg earned a doctoral degree from the University of Iowa’s College of Education, where her research focused on how teachers select, frame, and facilitate discussions about controversial issues. She teaches courses in young adult and children’s literature, collection development, and critical literacy at the University of Iowa. Find her on Twitter @katelechtenberg.

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