Q: I’m feeling disheartened and disturbed by what is happening when it comes to LGBTQ and other materials in schools that some people think of as “controversial.” I’ve heard of administrators deviating from policy, going so far as to remove books without a challenge in response to a small number of people in the community who have been vocal about opposing books with LGBTQ+ content. What can be done?
We’re sorry you’re feeling so disheartened. It does sometimes feel as if the only voices being heard, or listened to, or considered, are those attacking schools for making books with LGBTQ+ content, or that discuss race and racism, available to children and teens.
When a district takes actions to circumvent or avoid a challenge, perhaps in hopes of appeasing complainants or potential complainants, they are betting on not having to answer to the quiet majority who value intellectual freedom and the needs—and rights—of students and families. And they are in danger of violating their own policies and procedures.
In truth, what any district should truly fear isn’t a challenge to materials or the perceived “controversy” of some materials; it should fear not being accountable when it comes to following its own board-approved policies and procedures and fulfilling its responsibilities to meet the needs and respect the rights of all students.
To that end, we can’t overemphasize the willingness of those who are part of that “quiet majority” in a community, who value intellectual freedom and support student access to materials in the professionally curated library collection, to speak up, ask questions, and demand accountability from their district administrators and board members. This includes parents, guardians and community members. District administrators and board members need to hear from them, and not just at the time of a public “controversy.”
We suggest asking questions that center accountability around intellectual freedom as it intersects with diversity, equity and inclusion; social/emotional learning; and the safety of students and staff.
For example, parents, community members and/or the media might ask district administration:
- How does the district make sure its process for addressing concerns and complaints about library or curriculum materials is fair and equitable, keeping the rights, needs and interests of all students and families at the forefront?
- How do you make sure that the district’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is reflected in materials in libraries and the curriculum?
- How do you assure that when a complaint is made or concern is raised, even if informal, about materials in the library or curriculum, the district response is transparent, and doesn’t circumvent the board-approved process?
- How are you reassuring staff that when they follow board-approved policies and procedures for selecting library or curriculum materials, they will be supported by the district, even when choosing materials that might be considered “controversial” by some?
- What is the district doing, or what will it do, to support students and staff who may be unduly impacted when specific identities and lived experiences are attacked as part of a materials concern, complaint or challenge, especially given what we know about the mental health and emotional challenges faced by LGBTQ and other students?
We hope that sharing these and other questions for parents, community members, and others to ask, questions that center the expectations of accountability for supporting the rights, needs and interests of all students, might not only remind school district administrators and boards of their responsibilities, but also support them in carrying them out.