Nampa to consider new process for removing books

The Nampa School District, which garnered national attention for yanking 22 books from its library shelves earlier this year, could have a new policy for future book complaints in place by later this month.

District spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck told EdNews via email last Thursday that she anticipates the school board to consider the proposed policy during its Sept. 12 board meeting.

The proposal follows weeks of discussion after trustees in June asked interim superintendent Greg Russell for a policy to guide future book complaints. If OK’d by trustees next week, the proposal would oversee the process, which was fraught with confusion in the months leading up to the school board’s May 9 book ban.  Over 100 district emails EdNews requested and reviewed after the board’s decision outline some of that confusion, along with other details about the process.

Just weeks after the decision — and blowback that ensued — trustees decried not having a policy in place to help handle the complaints. Board chair Jeff Kirkman, who joined two other trustees in voting to ban the books, said during a June 9 board meeting that the district’s process for removing the books “was all over the place.”

“A shock to the system is sometimes needed to make changes the right way,” trustee Marco Valle, who also voted to ban the books, said during the same meeting.

Nampa doesn’t have a procedure that addresses challenged books, Tuck stressed to EdNews last week. Instead, the process leading up to the May 9 decision revolved around other policies, including a grievance policy and other administrative procedures.

Proposed plan broken down by ‘levels’

The proposal clarifies that a challenge over books be addressed first at the school or building level and includes information about how to proceed, if necessary.

Up to four “levels” would guide the process:

  • Level 1 requires an “informational meeting” between a teacher or librarian and building-level administrator regarding a complaint, with a sheet outlining the district’s process for selecting library and other supplemental materials as guidance. If a “resolution” regarding the material is reached, a copy of the agreement will be sent to a “Standing Reconsideration Panel” made up of a district librarian, elementary and secondary teachers, building administrator and parent or community member. If a resolution is not reached at Level 1, the complainant may fill out a “Request of Reconsideration” form and turn in to a building administrator, who will forward it to the panel.
  • Level 2 includes consideration of the reconsideration form by the panel, which meets monthly during the school year. Panelists will “gather and review relevant and historical information” concerning the material and make a recommendation, along with a report addressing their findings that will be shared with a district-level administrator and the complainant. If the complainant disagrees with the recommendation, they can request a Level 3 panel review.
  • Level 3 includes further review from a “Focused Reconsideration Panel” made up of a principal, teacher, librarian, district-level content specialist, representatives from the special education or federal programs departments and a parent from each zone in the district. Two meetings will allow the panel to evaluate material per district policy and allow those complaining to express their views.
  • Level 4 includes a decision from the school board if a resolution hasn’t been reached.

Emails underscore confusion leading up to book ban

A trove of emails obtained by EdNews from the district underscore the confused and tense process leading up to the board’s May 9 book ban — and pushback from parents who fueled the effort.

EdNews requested emails tied to challenged books leading up to the board’s May 9 decision. The request turned up hundreds of pages of emails from patrons, staff, trustees and others.

“Is this discrimination against me?” parent Mandy Guy wrote on April 25 to Nampa Executive Director of Elementary Education Laurie Maughan. Guy, who for months had joined a handful of other parents in complaining to administrators about the “pornographic” books, questioned a process administrators used for reviewing the material, and why she wasn’t selected to participate.

Here’s a timeline of some key details from the emails, prior to the May 9 book ban:

  • Jan. 19: Superintendent Greg Russell emails trustees about a parent who complained about books at a board meeting the night before. He assures board members of a process that has “mitigated concerns” in the past and that he will “reach out” about reviewing material flagged by the parent. 
  • Feb. 2: Parent Tosha Sweeney asks Maughan why no committee has been formed yet and encourages removal of the 25 books. Maughan responds that things have “slowed down” and a committee is ready to be put together. Maughan also asks for other names of parents who want to participate. Maughan acknowledges Guy’s name as one mentioned for the review committee.
  • Feb. 18: Russell updates trustees on the process and says that books under review have been pulled from shelves in the meantime. A committee to review the books will convene March 2, he adds.
  • Feb. 25: Russell tells trustees that 25 books were originally challenged, but one title was “misidentified” as being in a school library. Six other titles have “very little or no questionable content,” and were recommended for removal from the list of challenged books. Ten books were “in between,” Russell adds, and would require a review form to be filled out in order to proceed with a complaint. Eight titles were recommended for removal. (Russell went on to tell trustees on April 27 that challenged books were checked against Common Sense Media’s rating scale for questionable books.)
  • March 11: Guy emails Maughan complaining about not being on a committee to review books and shares details about the committee with trustees.
  • April 25: Guy revives her complaints in an email to trustees, Russell and Maughan. Maughan tells Guy that parents from her “group” have been invited but two declined, one agreed but did not pick up books to review or show up for meetings. A “variety of parents” serving on the committees have “different viewpoints,” Maughan says.
  • April 26: Parent Kristen Young emails Maughan, other parents and board members about the lack of invitations for parents who have expressed concerns. Valle emails Russell to ask about the process.
  • April 27: Russell updates trustees about the process, including details about using Common Sense Media’s book rating scale to gauge content in the books. A parent who declined to be on a committee is now claiming they were never asked, he says, adding that the district “has done our best to accommodate concerns.”
  • April 29: Young asks Maughan and trustees who has final say in banning the books. Maughan says she’ll compile recommendations for Russell “all at once for action.” Young says she feels “deceived and lied to.”
  • May 2: Board clerk Krissy LaMont shares with trustees the district’s grievance procedure.
  • May 3: Maughan shares with trustees a list of challenged books and more information on the process, along with a link to Common Sense Media.
  • May 9: Board members vote 3-2 to ban 22 titles from school libraries.

Feedback over the decision varied

Dozens of emails flooded trustees’ inboxes after the vote.

“Thank you,” Sweeney emailed board members the next day.

The banned books are “readily available at public libraries for those who want their kids to read them,” patron Alice Carty added. 

Others criticized the decision.

“The more I learn about the situation the more appalling it becomes,” former Nampa trustee Robert Otten wrote to board chair Jeff Kirkman on June 17. “There was a process going and it was working, but you as a board decided at the last minute that it was not working for you.”

Other blowback has lingered, including a response from the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.

“The board knowingly usurped the process the Nampa School District was using to determine whether the challenged books should remain on district library shelves,” the ACLU wrote to the board last month.

The board “disregarded” the recommendations from district staff that at least six of the challenged books contained “little or no sexual content,” the ACLU added, and the board chose to remove all 22 books from school library shelves.

Kirkman, who voted with Valle and trustees Tracey Pearson to ban the books, hinted at possibly revisiting the matter at a later date in a May 23 email to one concerned patron.

There is “always an opportunity to revisit the motion after a solid and transparent process is in place to address any challenges to books in NSD libraries,” Kirkman wrote, adding that his vote was meant to “pause” everything “until the board puts a proper and transparent procedure in place.”

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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