Administrator Wants to Avoid Controversy

Q: A parent came and talked to me about a book their child checked out. They are upset it was available in the school library. My administrator thinks it’s better to make the book go away and avoid potential controversy than follow the policy for reconsideration. How can I hand this?

Unfortunately, administrators sometimes are fearful of what will happen if material is challenged. It’s a human reaction, but making the book “go away” is a shortsighted response that will only increase problems down the road.

Start by making sure your administrator is familiar with what the selection and reconsideration policies and procedures state regarding how the district responds to concerns and complaint. You might begin this conversation by saying, “I know we want to make sure we follow all of the board-approved policies…” and ask for some time to sit down and go over them together. You might say, “I just thought it would be helpful if we assess where things are at.”

As part of that conversation, try to touch on the following talking points:

• The board-approved policies and procedures make sure that all complaints are handled according to a democratic process that is applied across the board, regardless of who raises the concern or what material is being questions.

• Removing the book without following procedures has turned all power over to the complainant, who may or may not intend to follow through on their concern by filing a formal request for reconsideration. Even if they have filed the request, it also sends the message to that individual—and anyone else who finds out about it (and of course people will find out about it, from the complaining parent if nothing else)–that all you have to do is raise the question and the material will go away. It essentially says that board-approved policies and procedures are meaningless.

• Not following the board-approved policies could put the district in jeopardy legally.

Be supportive by offering to gather reviews and other professional assessments of the material in question. (If you’re in Wisconsin, you can call the CCBC for assistance with this by calling 608-263-3720.) While you focus on this, the administrator can focus on making sure the concerned parent—and anyone else who inquires—understands that the district takes all concerns seriously. So seriously, in fact, that there are policies and procedures in place to make sure all such concerns are handled in a fair and democratic manner.

That should be the message shared at with the complainant and anyone else who asks. Additional information about how library materials are selected may also be relevant, and that’s something else you might want to go over with your administrator. But now is not the time for the administrator to get into discussions with the complainant or others about the merit or content of this particular title. Part of the district’s message at this point should be explaining that is exactly what the reconsideration process is for.

The bottom line—and we say this often because it’s true—is that in building a school library collection that will meet the diverse needs, interests, and abilities of all of the students in the school community, offering them reading choices that inform and engage them, means having a wide range of books and other materials available. Some content will inevitably be more mature or challenging in a variety of ways. For this and other reasons, not every book will be right for every student or family. But every student will be able to come to the library and find many books that will be right for them.

If your administrator still insists the book “go away,” then you have to decide what to do, knowing the choice you make may impact you both personally and professionally. Please see this What IF Question for more.

March, 2013