GISD librarians have been feeling heat, and not just because it’s summer.
They, and other school librarians throughout the state, have been under scrutiny for months because of books that Gov. Greg Abbott, state lawmakers, parents and others claimed were age inappropriate and, in some cases, sexually explicit.
The controversy led to reforms, including within the GISD. At its regular meeting in May, the Granbury School Board of Trustees adopted a new policy related to library materials.
Under that policy, a district-level librarian supervisor position was created, although, according to Superintendent Jeremy Glenn, the position is “a wash” due to a resignation in the curriculum department.
While a new supervisor might make some employees feel apprehensive, GISD librarians may feel a sense of relief.
That is because their supervisor will be a well-known colleague: longtime GISD employee Leah Dawson.
Dawson, who served last school year as assistant principal at Acton Elementary School, was that school’s librarian for nine years. She has a master’s degree in library science from Texas Women’s University.
“I have received great feedback from librarians about me taking this position,” Dawson, who has also taught second grade at Acton Elementary, told the Hood County News last week. “Lots of positive emails, text messages and phone calls.”
Dawson will officially assume the title of district student services coordinator on Friday. In that role, she will oversee the Student Health Advisory Committee, the district’s nursing staff and the district’s counseling staff, but her primary role will be library coordinator.
The Hurst native is married to Assistant Superintendent Jimmy Dawson, who also has a long history with GISD. She said that she applied for the position “because I felt like librarians in the district needed support and needed someone who knew the library world.”
The position is part of the district’s multi-faceted efforts to better monitor materials that are made available to students through school libraries.
Two replacement policies regarding instructional materials and library books that were adopted by trustees in May adhere to recommendations by the Texas Association of School Boards based on model language published by the Texas Education Agency.
The guidelines will govern how materials are selected and reviewed.
As part of the changes, the district will have software that, if a parent opts in, will inform them of what books their child has checked out of their school library.
When Glenn made that announcement at the school board’s regular meeting in June, it was met with enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Glenn said he feels that the district has now “thoroughly” addressed concerns that were raised during the controversy.
“We’ve adopted one of the toughest, most comprehensive policies as it relates to bringing library materials into our schools,” he said. “We have strong perimeters in place for what’s in our libraries.”
The new policy focuses on maximizing transparency while also providing “supplemental enrichment” to students who utilize libraries.
Working with library staff, the library coordinator — Dawson — will be able to reorder existing materials and recommend new materials. Recommendations can also be made by administrators, teachers, other GISD personnel, parents and community representatives.
Books will be required to meet a set of criteria that is outlined in the policy.
When new books are ordered that were not previously acquired, the district’s library coordinator will submit a list of those materials to be placed on an upcoming School Board agenda. Trustees will have a review period of at least 30 days prior to that school board meeting.
The school board will make final decisions about what materials to order.
All library materials will be posted online on the district’s website, and the content will be available for direct review.
If a parent challenges a book, an effort will be made to settle the matter informally through a phone conference or a meeting between the parent, the school librarian, a campus administrator or the district-level library coordinator.
Should the parent wish to file a formal request for reconsideration, a committee will be formed within 10 business days to review the challenged material.
“The reconsideration committee shall include both District and campus-level professional staff,” the new policy states. “This shall include the librarian, who has experience with the challenged resource; the District library coordinator; a content specific teacher appointed by the principal; the campus instructional specialist; and two parents from the campus leadership team. The campus principal shall act as the committee chair.”
After review, the committee will vote on the disposition of the material in question and the complainant will receive written notice of the decision. The parent will have the right to appeal.
Each school library is to maintain a printed list of materials onsite and on the school library website that shows what has been selected as well as what is slated for acquisition.
A “parent preview” will be offered, once in the fall and once in the spring, at least 10 days before books are to be placed on shelves.
“Audio-visual materials are to be made available to parents for in-person review, upon request, on the same basis as printed materials,” the new policy states.
Parents who do not want their children checking out certain books can contact the school librarian or complete an online “opt-out” form.
Dawson said that the new policy offers “stronger guidelines” for librarians.
She stated, “I’ve already been in contact with lots of other librarians in other districts — library coordinators. I’m already doing everything I can to educate myself more than I already have on the policy.”