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b. superseded by more current information or contain subject matter no longer needed to support the curriculum;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