Photo: Committee Chair and District 1 school board member Rhonda Thurman Photo Credit: Hamilton County Schools / YouTube
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
The Hamilton County Department of Education held a special committee meeting on Tuesday for the purpose of addressing concerns with content in the school reading materials. The group struggled to reach an agreement as to what the purpose of the committee would be.
It was previously reported that the committee was formed at the request of school board chair Tucker McClendon. It was formed of two individuals appointed by each school board member.
“I think we have seen from community members, and it’s been brought to the board that there are some concerns about what’s in our libraries. It has nothing to do with banning books or getting rid of books or anything like that,” McClendon said in a January phone interview with the Times Free Press.
At Tuesday’s meeting, committee chair and school board member Rhonda Thurman and the other members debated whether they would be strictly looking at library books or if they would also be looking at materials found in classroom libraries.
According to Thurman, outside sources were supplying books that had not been approved by school administrators for classroom libraries. She also stated that she had seen several posts made by teachers on social media stating that they would provide “restricted books” for students by allowing them to check them out from those libraries.
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Angela Favaloro, member of the Moms for Social Justice group and also a member of the committee, then stated that if Thurman was referring to her group, all of the books they had donated were approved by school leaders. According to Favaloro, the group secured grant money to provide a curated assortment of books to classrooms in 15 area schools.
After additional discussion, Favaloro requested that an attorney be on hand for all future meetings to help the group determine if any decisions were in violation of students’ rights, with agreement from committee member Autumn Witt Boyd.
Thurman stated that she did not understand how restricting certain books would be a violation of the rights of students.
“I’m certainly not wanting to violate anyone’s right,” Thurman stated. “I’m just wanting to inform the public about what their tax dollars are paying for, what’s in the libraries, the process.”
Nicole Galletta, librarian at Big Ridge Elementary in Hixson, is also serving on the committee. She noted that most of the books in her library are not purchased with taxpayer funds.
“We work really hard to raise money in order to provide books for our students,” Galletta said.
Committee member Wayne McBrayer countered that even books were not “exempt from a standard” just because they were not paid for with tax money.
Thurman expressed concern with how parents would react to the group’s inability to reach an agreement on how to handle these controversial reading materials.
“If we cannot agree that we can get together as a group of parents, educators, and professional people and say that some of this stuff is unacceptable and how do we keep this out of our schools, parents are going to lose complete and total confidence in public schools, and I don’t blame them,” she stated.
Before the end of the meeting, the committee decided to look at possible changes to Board Policy 4.402 regarding the selection of instructional materials other than textbooks. That policy states that library books are monitored but that parents can request additional review of “sensitive content.”
The next meeting is scheduled for February 22 at 5:30. It will be held at the Hamilton County Schools central office.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Director for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com