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SC Department of Education completes review of school library book process

Sisters laying on the library floor reading books

Photo: Getty Images

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Department of Education presented the findings from its review into how districts select books for their school libraries on Tuesday.

The review stems from a complaint about a book found in Fort Mill school libraries last month, titled Gender Queer: A Memoir, a graphic novel about author Maia Kobabe’s LGBTQ-plus life.

The discovery caught the attention of Gov. Henry McMaster, who called the book “obscene and pornographic” and asked the state Department of Education to investigate how it ended up on those shelves and if any other schools had the book in their circulation. The governor also requested the department review and approve library books available to students.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman has maintained individual schools and districts are responsible for paying for and selecting the materials on their library shelves, which is what the Department of Education reiterated during Tuesday’s State Board of Education meeting.

“It’s the recommendation of the Department that the selection of materials should rest at that local level, as they’re the ones that are best equipped to make those appropriate decisions at their individual schools and districts,” SCDE Government Affairs Director Katie Nilges said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Nilges presented model guidance for districts on the processes for selecting library books and on what happens if someone complains about available materials.

These practices include the need for these policies to be widely known and available, that people complaining about books either reside in that district or have a child attending school in that district, and that there should be a 15-day period for books called into question to be reviewed.

During that time, the department said best practice is that the book is removed from circulation, but if it is found to be appropriate, then the book should be put back on the shelves and unable to be challenged for a certain period of time.

Members of the South Carolina Association of School Librarians were involved in this review process, and they stressed the importance of districts having protocol in place and following it.

“That is the big thing here, is no matter what the book is, no matter what the issue is, we are following the process and that we are giving families a chance to be heard but also knowing that one family does not speak for every family in your school,” SCASL President Katherine Malmquist said.

Malmquist spoke at Tuesday’s meeting and said SCASL members were pleased with how the process had gone in working with the Department of Education.

“We want to be part of that process because we know our students. We know our schools. And that’s the big thing here, is that if you’re picking out books for schools, you need to talk to the experts,” Malmquist said.

Next month, the Department of Education will recommend a model policy for the state Board of Education to adopt for district guidance, Nilges said.

Copyright 2021 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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