Solana Beach School District approves library plan

A student scans the shelves at the Solana Vista School Library.
(Stacy Bostrom)

The Solana Beach School District board approved an updated plan for its school libraries and media centers on April 14. The plan delegates the authority to principals and school curriculum resource teachers to select library books that foster a love of reading as well as boost students’ social and emotional competencies.

The plan also outlines a thorough process for parents to restrict their student’s access to certain books and voice concerns and submit formal complaints regarding the reconsideration of instructional materials, including library books.

SBSD President Vicki King said the plan reflects the board’s trust in the expertise and knowledge of the district’s professionals in the decision-making process regarding books.

She echoed last month’s comments by Solana Highlands School curriculum resource teacher Hollis Lefkowitz on the importance of books being both windows and mirrors to young readers, to help learn acceptance and empathy.

“Books really are the foundational piece of our students’ lives...going into the media center and checking out books is a highlight for most of our kids,” said SBSD Trustee Gaylin Allbaugh said. “I know that this has been a really hard subject for a lot of people. I hope that we have come up with a solution that serves our students in the best way possible going forward so that they can use books to their advantage.”

The comprehensive library plan has evolved since last fall when some community members raised concerns around a set of donated books from the organization Gender Nation. The collection of 15 books donated to every school’s library carry themes of self-acceptance with an emphasis on those who may not conform to gender norms and/or those whose gender does not match their biological sex assigned at birth.

SBSD Trustee Julie Union said throughout the process, the conversations may have been difficult but she believes the board has gained more understanding as they have listened to different points of view.

“What I’ve learned is that we all want kids and families to feel loved and supported. I’ve also learned parents want to feel respected in the personal ways they choose how and when to address topics with their children,” Union said. “I’m approving the library plan because it is fair for all and it allows parent choice and clear ways to recommend books or share concerns.”

In selecting books, curriculum resource teachers consider the educational value and age-appropriateness of materials, as well as the needs of each school site including demographics and site-based areas of focus. As an example, last year staff worked with a local Girl Scout Troop on the donation of 60 eco-books to the Solana Ranch School Library to provide conservation resources for the school’s EnviroHawks student club.

Resources used in the evaluation of books include county and state department of education recommendation lists and reviews from reputable sources. The American Academy of Pediatrics was added as a resource to cross-reference age appropriateness recommendations of “complex” topics.

Per the plan, books that “take a particular position on a debatable topic” will be placed on a professional bookshelf in the library rather than in general circulation. These resources may be checked out by parents, used with parent consent during individual or small group counseling sessions or integrated with parent consent as a social and emotional learning resource by trained school staff.

Parents may request that a school’s curriculum research teacher restrict a child from checking out certain book titles or genres from the library. If a parent wishes to restrict access to a specific title, a written request is submitted and an alert is placed in library software.

During public comment, parent Marina Fleming said she generally supported the plan but was concerned about the option for parents to prevent access to books that address a particular topic.

“Not choosing a book to read to a class because one child isn’t allowed to have access to it is discriminatory,” Fleming said. “Parents don’t get to opt their children out of math, spelling or science lessons. Why do they get to do so for media center lessons?”

She worries that parents opting out on books that allow gender-diverse characters to be seen and understood will mean underserved children continue to be marginalized.

“Several trustees mentioned that some of the subject matter of the Gender Nation books made them uncomfortable. The term uncomfortable is used to maintain the status quo,” Fleming said. “True inclusion means getting comfortable with our own discomfort so that marginalized kids can feel more comfortable.”