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Officials address local push to remove books from Bedford County school libraries

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In response to recent challenges to multiple books, some available at certain Bedford County high schools, the county’s public schools staff outlined the division’s policy for handling such challenges during December’s school board meeting.

At the November meeting, Amy Snead, speaking on behalf of Bedford County’s Moms for Liberty group, requested certain books in some Bedford County high school libraries be “immediately” removed from shelves.

Snead brought print-outs of select portions from one of the challenged books, Jeanette Wall’s “The Glass Castle,” and gave them to school board members and staff, along with a list of 12 other challenged book titles, saying the content was “inappropriate,” as she said they contained in certain parts “graphic” descriptions of various forms of abuse and assault, explicit sexual language, strong cursing, and/or non-heterosexual perspectives.

No context or book summaries were provided with the titles and select quotes.

Challenged books in Bedford County also include “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.”

Snead said she was “in no way” attempting to suppress freedom of speech or promote censorship. The group, she said, wanted “simply to remove language and imagery that is not appropriate at this age level.” She claimed if students were found texting or passing notes to one another containing the selected lines from “The Glass Castle” she printed out for the board, those students would be in violation of the schools’ code of conduct and would be disciplined with detention or in-school suspension.

“My question to you is, if that can’t be said or texted, why is it available in our libraries?” Snead said. “It is our responsibility to take them out.”

During board discussion later in the meeting, District 4 representative Marcus Hill read the selected portions of various books and recommended the titles be pulled from shelves right away.

“Just reading the second page, ‘The Glass Castle’ is concerning enough, and if all of these books contain offensive stuff as that second page, I don’t think it’s appropriate,” he said.

Other school board members did not want to be hasty.

District 1 representative Susan Mele said she wanted to read the books herself before making any decisions on the matter, as she had not read any of the ones in question.

District 5 representative Georgina Hairston, a former principal in a different school district, asked school staff whether Bedford County schools had a procedure in place where concerned parents or groups could file a complaint with the school stating the title of the concerning book, and their reasons for wanting the material pulled. This practice, she said, was followed in the school system she was principal of in the past, and she recommended using it to handle concerns in Bedford County as well.

On Thursday, during the December school board meeting, school staff explained the process for handling challenges to books in Bedford County public schools.

Called Policy KLB, the long-standing procedure Bedford County schools has for challenged books allows concerned parents to file a written or verbal complaint with the library media specialist or, if the book is part of classroom use, the teacher. The appropriate party will then work with the family regarding their concerns, and the library media specialist will consult with the school principal and Shawn Trosper, director of curriculum and instruction,

The challenged material will remain in use during the process, and depending on the outcome may or may not be restricted. A committee consisting of the library media specialist, the school’s principal, school board office staff, concerned parent(s), and any other appropriate party will meet and make a final decision. If the complainant disagrees with the decision, they can appeal it to the superintendent or their designee, and finally to the school board.

Only one book may be challenged at a time, according to Policy KLB.

Trosper said since the November meeting, he has reached out to concerned community members regarding Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and discussed the challenge policy with them. A decision is expected to be made on this book in the coming days.

District 2 representative and school board chair Jason Johnson said since the November meeting, he started reading “Beloved.” The book has been difficult to read at times, with its stories of psychological and physical impacts of slavery, but Johnson said he is reading the book because he “needs to.”

“If we want students to understand our history, an accurate history — not some sanitized version of history but what really happened — then they need to read challenging books like ‘Beloved,’ and they need to read other challenging books,” he said.

Johnson encouraged everyone to keep reading, and thanked school staff for working with individual concerned parents.

Bedford County is not alone in dealing with challenges to certain books in school libraries. The trend has spread throughout the United States, including various school divisions in Florida, Texas, and elsewhere in Virginia. Many instances reported on include pushes from local Moms for Liberty groups, a conservative group that started in Florida and has seen local chapters spring up elsewhere.

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