Mat-Su schools that plan to host book fairs in which private vendors sell materials to children and parents, must now first provide parents with a list of the books on display. Additionally, parents must be notified two weeks prior to the fair so they have time to review material which they may find objectionable and decide whether to withdraw their child. If private book vendors refuse to provide book lists, the book fair must be cancelled.
These are part of a new set of protocols issued by the Mat-Su School District in the wake of a March 23-24 book fair at Teeland Middle School in Wasilla. The event featured books celebrating gay teen romance, LGBTQ activism, queer fantasy and transgender sexual identity. Held in the 6th-through-8th grade school library, the fair took place during school hours, and was jointly hosted by Fireside Bookstore, a Palmer-based business that partners with LGBTQ activist groups to promote transgenderism and homosexuality among Mat-Su youth.
The instruction warns that distribution of sexually explicit content to minors is a felony.
District protocols now instruct school librarians to review books ahead of the event and remove any with “sexually explicit” content. Concerns about specific books should then be brought directly to the principal, who should contact his or her supervisor.
Additionally, the district is establishing a committee to review and amend the Library Collection Policies Manual. In particular, the district aims to establish a process to provide parents with approval and notification rights regarding books their children access via school libraries.
The new protocol notes that, “due to the volume of book challenges, the district has suspended” its current process of reconsidering the appropriateness of books. Moving forward, a Reconsideration Committee will apply Alaska statute as the criteria in deciding the educational value of a book in question.
According to Alaska Statute, a school must provide parent notification “not less than two weeks before any activity, class, or program that includes content involving human reproduction or sexual matters is provided to a child.” The law also emphasizes that parents have a right to “review the content of these activities or programs before they are offered to their child.
In explaining the new protocol, the district noted that it has grappled with the question of whether a school-sponsored book fair constitutes an “activity” or “program” as defined in law.
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“There is no statutory definition of the term ‘activity,’ but to the extent that teachers and librarians are involved in the organization, implementation, or supervision of a book fair, it is prudent for the district to consider it an activity for the purposes of the statute,” the protocol notes. “Thus, the statutory rights of parents to advance notice, to content review, and to withdraw their child from the activity, must be provided.”
The instructions emphasize that this is particularly important if the activity “includes content involving human reproductive or sexual matters.”
The instruction goes on to warn that distribution of sexually explicit content to minors is a felony.
“That statute does not exempt teachers, librarians, or other school staff involved in book fairs, even if acting in the course and scope of their duties,” it adds.
The instructions end by explaining that the intent is to “ensure compliance with the law, thereby protecting the rights of students and parents, while protecting the district and its staff from assertions of statutory violations.”
Other controversial, but non-pornographic books, will not be removed, but parents will “decide if they want their child to have access to those available books,” the document states. “Librarians should still make efforts to identify such books, to better communicate with parents who express content concerns.”