November 17, 2017

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FL School District Lets Parents See What Kids Are Reading

HandandbookAfter a spate of book challenges this summer, Collier County (FL) Public Schools (CCPS) came to a decision: let parents see what books their children are taking out to read.

The district opened its virtual doors in August, allowing moms and dads to review what the nearly 45,000 K–12 students at its 50 schools are checking out at the library media center.

The move comes after a series of book challenges that the district faced in June 2015, when a parents’ group called Parents ROCK (Rights of Choice for Kids) raised concerns about  four titles: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (Holt, 1970), Beloved (Knopf, 1987), Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban (Knopf, 1992) and Lois Duncan’s Killing Mr. Griffin (Little, Brown, 1978). They wanted the district to restrict availability of the titles to what they called “age-appropriate children with a parents (sic) permission,” according to a June 18 Facebook post.

A privacy issue

“Parents really are our partners in education,” says Peggy Aune, CCPS assistant superintendent in Naples, FL. “This allows parents to see any information about the books and make suggestions [to their child] about what [they are] checking out.”

Parents reading with their children can send teachers and librarians into joyful cartwheels. Letting mom and dad peek at what their kids are checking out to read? For that, there’s a little less enthusiasm. A long-standing tenet of librarianship is the belief that parents do not have the right to dictate what all students read. At the same time, they also respect that parents and guardians have the right to make decisions they feel are best for their own children—even if those choices may not ring true to them as media specialists.

“When Harry Potter (Bloomsbury, 1997) came out, I had a girl who said she couldn’t read it because her mom wouldn’t let her, because her preacher said ‘No,’” says Terri Grief, school librarian at McCracken County High School in Paducah, KY, and immediate past president of the American Association of School Librarians. “That was heartbreaking for me, because everyone was reading Harry Potter. But I understand parents have the final say.”

A book can be a safe place to get answers to questions they may not be ready to ask of friends or family. “Maybe they do need to read a book about a sensitive subject that they don’t feel they can talk about with their parents,” Grief says. “They use fiction to learn about life. That doesn’t mean they want to do [what’s described in the book]. Knowledge is power.”

Sometimes, Grief notes, kids just want to escape into other people’s problems. However, she counsels students all the time that if a book “feels icky,” she says, or makes a child uncomfortable, then maybe they shouldn’t be reading that title right now.

CCPS  links Follett  program to web portal

The district uses Follett’s Destiny Asset Manager, a software program that helps districts track and oversee their literacy resources. Each school has a media center, staffed with a full-time certified library media specialist, says Traci Kohler, director of STEM, instructional technology and media services for CCPS.

In August, the district linked that program online to its web-based portal. This allows parents of K–12 students to enter their own child’s six-digit ID, and then see what he or she has already accessed from the school media center.

Follett is “not involved” with the set-up of the portal and link to the Destiny system, says Tom Kline, vice president of corporate communications for the educational technology company.

“It sounds like something the county did themselves,” he says.

New option gathering momentum

Since CCPS granted access to students’ library activity for the 2015–2016 school year, there’s been a “heightened awareness of the parent portal,” says Kohler. She adds that parents have been calling to learn how to log in.

Thus far, there haven’t been any challenges by parents, according to Kohler. “I’ve had monthly meetings with the media specialists,” she says. “Nothing has risen to that level that has needed my attention. In our case, no news is good news.”

 

 

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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Comments

  1. This horrifies me. I can (barely) understand letting parents of children under a certain age (say, five) see the records, simply so they can gather up the dozen picture books and return them without loss or fines. But for K-12??? What about the 11-year-old girl whose parent is abusing her, who has checked out a book to help her figure out what to do? What about the teens who aren’t quite ready for sex but want to read more about it in a novel? Studies have shown that kids and teens who read about things like sex, drug use, suicide, etc., are much LESS likely to participate in bad behaviors than those who don’t. Let those helicopter parents chew on that information!

    • I, too, am dismayed by this. It is a bad precedent to set. Send those kids to the public library! We’ll look out for them.

  2. If a kid really wants to read a book that their parent might not want them to read, they can easily have a friend borrow it for them!

  3. I feel like this is a bad idea for all parties (school, parents, and children alike). Not only may it restrain a child from a certain series, but it also promotes distrust with parents and school systems. In high school as well as middle school, parents should trust their children with books. People should also keep in mind that just because children like to read a series doesn’t mean that they will take part in actions (such as violence) the book may portray.

  4. Melissa W. says:

    As somebody who works in a library, I really don’t like this; if parents really wanted to know what their kids are checking out, they just have to open up their backpack.

    • If they want to know what their kids are reading, ask the kids! Have a discussion. Read with them. No need to go to those lengths.

    • Deborah Evans says:

      Exactly! It shows how many parents aren’t working with their kids on a day to day basis. My granddaughters are 7 and 9 and both are advanced readers. If I’m not sure about a book, “I” read it and talk to them about its content. That’s MY job!!

  5. I think we can all take a breath and walk hand in hand with parents through their child’s educational journey. Aren’t these the same people who should be prosecuted if they don’t send their child to school? Yet, we refuse transparency for them? What would a library look like that put out recommended reading lists for children and parents on related topics? What would a library look like that refused to censor information for parents and instead scheduled family reading and discussion nights? Fast forward 15 years to young adults who have grown up knowing the value of learning together with teachers and parents. Those young adults will not only have the skills to read but also kindly and succintly share their learned view with others.

    • This all sounds wonderful for children who have open minded, involved parents. Likely, those parents already talk to their children about what they are reading. But what about the children who are in less than ideal situations? What about the high school teenager who wants to know more about teenage sexual relationships, but is afraid that his parents will find out and he is not yet ready to have that discussion with them? What about a child who thinks her friend has an eating disorder, but wants to learn more about the topic before talking to an adult in case she’s wrong? What about the child who is being abused by a parent? Do you think she will feel comfortable borrowing a book about the topic, knowing that her parents will see what she’s reading? It would be lovely to assume that the children in these situations will borrow the books they need and the parents will see what they’ve borrowed and they will all have lovely, illuminating discussions. The reality is though, that the children in these types of situations will simply stop borrowing books on controversial topics and they will remain ignorant.