By KATIE MOEN
For Union County HAWK
SCOTCH PLAINS — A state-wide debate surrounding the definition of age-appropriate content in public schools reached the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education (BOE) last week when two of the district’s librarians stepped to the podium to share their methodologies for selecting materials.
“With the participation of more than 100 parents and guardians, we recently presented revised health-education proficiencies to the board of education for approval. The approval of these proficiencies has prompted a new focus on reviewing our library collections to ensure that our catalogs support and are aligned with these proficiencies,” said Robert McGarry, Ed.D., the district’s assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum. “This is especially important in the area of health education, where we respect that families have the right to opt their students out of certain lessons, and by extensions, to certain media-center resources.”
On Thursday, during a regular meeting of the BOE, district media specialists Stephanie Giannacio and Terry Keller provided some insight into how books and other materials are selected.
Each year, Ms. Giannacio said, library media specialists add between 200 and 300 new books to their shelves based on a variety of criteria, including the district’s curriculum, legislative mandates and initiatives, literary awards and the popularity of certain authors and illustrators among young readers.
“Finally, we use a metric called ‘windows and mirrors.’ Books that are windows provide students with insight into the lives, experiences and ideas of people different from oneself, while mirrors reflect one’s own lives, experiences and ideas,” Ms. Keller said, adding that each book or media selection also is carefully vetted by the district’s team of media specialists.
“We don’t let anything hit the shelves that we haven’t personally read, watched or listened to,” Ms. Keller said. “We think it’s important to include as much diversity as possible in our selections, but we also recognize the need for age-appropriate content.”
Fanwood resident Garry Morris thanked the media specialists for their presentation, but added that he felt that the library (and its selections) could still use some “buttoning up.”
Mr. Morris, who ran for a seat on the Scotch Plains-Fanwood BOE in 2022, pointed to one book in particular — “Melissa,” by Alex Gino — as an example.
“The book includes references on how to hide internet searches from parents. It also normalizes the use of porn and dirty magazines by young children. I wouldn’t want my middle-school kids seeing that, but not only do we have it in both middle-school libraries, but this book is actually available in one of our elementary schools as well,” Mr. Morris said. “It’s really pushing the limits.”
The district’s media specialists will be working through the summer to update their libraries and bring their selections into compliance with various state mandates and local curricula.
In other district news, Business Administrator Christopher Jones said Thursday that transportation costs (which have more than doubled over the course of the past five years) will likely continue to be a problem for Scotch Plains-Fanwood schools.
“Last year, transportation costs went up by about 40 percent,” Mr. Jones said. “We did receive a couple of different bids [for the 2024-2025 school year], so I’m hoping that maybe next year won’t be as bad, but this does continue to be a stress on us.”
On Thursday, the board voted to award two transportation contracts for the coming year — one for $99,892.80 to George Dapper, Inc., and another for $737,285.40 to Durham School Services.
“Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that services are going to improve right away,” Mr. Jones said. “We are still facing a major bus driver shortage, and the companies are basically hiring anyone they can get. Hopefully, things will start to turn around soon, but we’re not the only district with these issues.”
The next meeting of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Board of Education will be held at 8 p.m. on Thursday, June 8, in the administration building, located at 512 Cedar Street, Scotch Plains.
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