Banned or challenged? Books drive split between S.C. superintendent, school librarians

Banned or challenged? Books drive split between S.C. superintendent, school librarians
Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 11:00 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2023 at 11:01 AM EDT
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GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - The South Carolina Department of Education said it is ending a 50-year partnership with the S.C. Association of School Librarians (SCASL) over concerns about materials in school libraries.

On Aug. 25, state Superintendent Ellen Weaver sent a letter to the SCASL president saying the department is formally ending its relationship with the organization effective immediately.

Weaver’s letter cites concerns about rhetoric from the association that she deems political and “hyperbolic” surrounding concerns about banning books in school libraries.

In 2022, the American Library Association (ALA) received a record number of requests to censor books, many of which contain LGBTQ themes. The SCASL linked to the ALA’s advocacy toolkit in communication with school librarians, which lists banned books as an advocacy issue. The ALA staunchly defends intellectual freedom in libraries and gives librarians resources to “defend library resources and to protect against challenges before they happen.”

Weaver said SCASL also addressed the issue of censorship in a recent letter to school board members, which reportedly quoted a New York school district employee saying, “districts and boards should probably place more consideration on the emotional wellbeing of students rather than on attempts to pacify parents.”

Weaver, the GOP nominee for state superintendent who ran on a platform that included keeping “political indoctrination” out of classrooms, says challenging library materials that are potentially age or developmentally inappropriate should not be considered censorship.

“Parents are entirely justified in seeking to ensure educational materials presented to their children are age-appropriate and aligned with the overall purpose of South Carolina’s instructional program and standards,” Weaver wrote. “When SCASL labels those efforts as bans, censorship, or a violation of educators’ intellectual freedom, the result is a more hostile environment which does not serve the needs of students.”

In a response sent on Thursday, the SCASL board requested a face-to-face meeting with Weaver to discuss the issue and improve communication with the department. Their letter says decades of town hall meetings, read-ins at the State House, assistance for school librarians and regional workshops are the result of their partnership.

“Together, we improve the education lives of students and their families through our shared commitment to excellence,” the board wrote.

The organization, which represents more than 1,000 school librarians in S.C., says they “avidly encourage and support parent engagement and volunteering.”

Stay with FOX Carolina for updates on this developing story.