Update: New restrictions on Clay County school books did not need school board vote, board member says

Zoey Fields

Clay County Education Association President Vicki Kidwell said teachers in the district were told Wednesday that all junior high and high school students will need a permission slip to access books in the media center and classroom libraries.

“I can hardly believe it and I hope and pray that our educators are misinformed,” Kidwell said during a Thursday night school board meeting.

School board members did not respond to Kidwell’s comments. On Friday, board member Beth Clark confirmed that the school board did not vote on this change, as it is a “procedure” enforced by district officials, not a “policy,” which would come before the board for approval, she said.

Students return to Clay County District Schools on Thursday, Aug. 10.Photo byClay County District Schools

“There is no change in the elementary students’ procedures because the elementary students regularly use the libraries,” she said. “Unfortunately, we aren’t talking about very many junior high and high school students. A lot of them no longer have any interest in going to the library. So, this procedure was made in order to fall in line with parental rights and try to appease our current library situation.”

Clark said she confirmed this information with Clay County District Schools’ Chief Academic Officer Roger Dailey.

Wednesday was the first day back for Clay County teachers preparing for the 2023-24 school year.

“Surely the district has not made the radical decision to restrict access to all books as though somehow they were a danger to students,” Kidwell continued. “When was this decision made? Who decided this? Were parents and the community involved in this decision? Did this decision come before the school board? I haven't missed a meeting and, like our educators, I am completely blindsided by this change.”

This procedure is not mentioned in the district’s Library Media Services Manual, again, because it is not considered a voted upon “policy.”

“Was the school board aware and in agreement of such a drastic change from the previous ‘opt out’ to an ‘opt in’ for access to books?” Kidwell asked, referencing a parent’s option to limit or restrict access to certain books and authors in the school library.

Clay County Education Association President Vicki Kidwell during Thursday's meeting. Kidwell represents teachers' voices in the county.Photo byClay County District Schools YouTube

“It seems astonishing to me that a law meant to protect students from the possibility of a book with obscene material has, instead, resulted in Clay County schools locking down the freedom to read and sending a message to all students and parents that books are ‘dangerous’ and require parental permission to access,” she said.

Kidwell said that she, along with many others, will be awaiting a response that helps “make sense” of the rationale for this change and “increased restriction.”

Additionally, Oakleaf High School Media Specialist Christie Torode called the board’s attention to something the district’s media specialists had been told recently—they would be provided with a pre-approved list of books to make purchases from for district library media centers.

According to school officials, each book on that pre-approved purchase list has to be published within the last three years, she said.

“This leaves out some much-loved books that need to be replaced for wear and tear, or a popular book that was lost,” she said. “Those would not be there now because of the copyright date.”

Torode also questioned the board about junior and senior high students being required to have a permission slip to access books in the media center.

School board members did not respond to Torode’s comments.

Clay County students return to school Thursday, Aug. 10.

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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