The Central Bucks School District is expected to vote Tuesday evening on a contentious library policy that takes aim at “sexualized content,” a proposal the superintendent declares will ensure students are reading “age-appropriate material,” but that the Pennsylvania Library Association calls one of the most restrictive in schools across the state.
Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh — a champion of the proposed policy — said in an interview Monday that the intent is not to remove books from school libraries but to create a process for the selection of new materials and for parents to challenge “gratuitous, salacious, over-the-top, unnecessary, sexualized content [in library books] that would not be age-appropriate.”
He did not list specific books that might fall into this category.
“We don’t have titles in mind, per se,” Lucabaugh said. “The policy is rooted in prioritizing and selecting age-appropriate materials for our students that align with curriculum and materials that reflect the diversity of our student experiences. We believe that it’s very important that … all of our students are represented in the things they read in the library.”
The proposed language introduced by the Bucks County district’s Republican-dominated school board in May calls for more control from parents to contest books available in school libraries, and outlines that at every grade level, “no materials… shall contain visual or visually implied depictions of sexual acts” or “explicit written descriptions of sexual acts.”
If the school board passes the policy, Lucabaugh said, he will appoint a handful of administrators, teachers, librarians, and other educational professionals to develop a process for parents to challenge reading materials, and guidelines for determining what may be considered “age-inappropriate” , gratis content” when selecting school library books.
That committee, Lucabaugh said, “would be large enough to be inclusive of multiple perspectives,” and would “eliminate the potential for any decisions to be made in isolation.” He said that school board members would not be directly involved in the selection or removal of books.
Lucabaugh and school board officials have said the policy was introduced because the school district — Pennsylvania’s third-largest — did not have one in place.
But Christi Buker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association, which represents libraries across the state, said Central Bucks’ proposal stands out.
“This is a pretty restrictive policy,” Buker said. “We haven’t seen this level of proposal in other school districts at this time.”
Although Lucabaugh and school board officials say the policy is a not book ban, Bucker disagreed.
“It is banning books, based on one specific aspect, and not considering any other value of that piece of material,” she said, citing one portion of the policy that left her “blown away.”
In that section, it says the district’s libraries exist “to provide materials aimed at its pedagogical goals and for the interest, information, and enlightenment of minor children, not adults.” Furthermore, the language states, the library is “not a public forum” and its goal is not “to encourage views from private speakers/authors.”
“They clearly don’t want to provide multiple viewpoints,” Buker said.
The proposed policy has also sounded the alarm among educators and parents in the Central Bucks community, as well as civil rights groups, including the ACLU.
“The policy is vague and overbroad,” said Richard T. Ting, an attorney with the ACLU. Ting also noted the policy language does not specify who, exactly, may be involved in the process of selecting and removing books from schools.
“School should be a marketplace of ideas for students to explore,” Ting said. “And we’re also talking about library books, …not required reading for classwork. This is just books in the library that are there for students, and students should be free to choose what they read. Families should be able to discuss those things with their kids, as well. It shouldn’t be up to a few people … to decide what everyone else gets access to.”
Lucabaugh countered that “it may not be required reading, but the access to [the books] is always there.”
“School districts have always established and maintained policy and boundaries around the property of content,” he said.
In a district-wide message to parents last week, Lucabaugh and school board president Dana Hunter said the policy has been “mischaracterized within our community and the press,” writing that every student “deserves to be seen, heard, cared for, included, accepted, respected, loved and, most especially, educated.”
The letter also stated that not all books containing “sexual content” would be subject to removal from libraries.
“Books such as ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison, which chronicles the real-life horror of racism and sexual abuse belongs in our school libraries at an age-appropriate level,” they wrote. “So do the classics like ‘The Scarlet Letter’ or an illustrated reference book about anatomy.”
The message, said Ting, “ironically points out the problem with this type of policy.
“Like, why is it that they get to say that and make that decision?”
Prior to the school board vote Tuesday, representatives from the ACLU, Education Law Center, NAACP, and PFLAG are expected to join teachers and students in a demonstration outside the board’s headquarters in Doylestown.
The Central Bucks library policy proposal comes as book bans across the nation have surged — as well as a focus on content involving LGBTQ characters and storylines. Some conservative politicians and activists have accused public schools of “indoctrinating” students around the topics of gender and sexuality.
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The library proposal follows other policy changes at Central Bucks, including the district’s call to remove Pride flags from classrooms and shifting its sex education classes online after facing blowback for instructing transgender students to attend classes corresponding with their sex assigned at birth.
On Monday, Lucabaugh said Central Bucks’ proposed policy “is not based on one genre of literature” or one intended audience. If a book containing LGBTQ characters or plotline is found by the committee to be “gratuitous and over-sensationalized,” it is required to be replaced “with a comparable book …for an LGBTQ audience,” he said. If a comparable read cannot be found by the committee, Lucabaugh said, a challenged book may remain on library shelves.
For Lela Casey, a district parent who hopes to speak out with her 13-year-old daughter during the meeting, the action “seems to be more based on an agenda than actually what’s beneficial to every kid in the district.
“I don’t really see,” she said, “how our superintendent is saying that he knows more than all of these organizations that have read the policy and are calling it out and saying that it is censorship.”