February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

DC Parents Demand School Librarians Be Restored

Parents in Washington, DC, are taking to the streets, advocating for more funding for their school libraries and librarians.

The Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO) has spent the past seven months pushing Washington, DC, to open its coffers to school libraries to replenish shelves, upgrade library spaces and hire more librarians for K–12 students.

“We wanted to get librarians restored but also get District of Columbia Public Schools to make a commitment to get school libraries on their feet,” says Peter MacPherson, a member of CHPSPO and a parent of a 10th grader in public school.

MacPherson and his cohort are reacting to a decision last spring from the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) to pull dedicated funding from schools with fewer than 300 students and also allow schools with 300 or more students to divert funds for librarians to other purposes. That led to 58 of the 124 schools in the DCPS to start this fall without librarians — nearly double the 34 from the 2011/2012 school year. (DCPS did not respond to a request for information.)

Parents pushed back, asking for a meeting with Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who agreed to form a task force, says MacPherson, which is to be co-chaired by Barbara Stripling, former director of library services with the New York City Department of Education and current president-elect with the American Library Association. (Stripling did not respond to an interview request by press time.)

And CHPSPO has found other allies, namely Council Member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) who has proposed a bill, “The Public School Librarians, Art and Music Teacher Act of 2012,” requiring every DC public school to have a full-time librarian, art and music teacher. However a hearing has not yet been scheduled for the bill and if not set by early January, when the council period ends, the bill would have to be re-introduced next term, according to Council Member Phil Mendelson’s office, who chairs the committee considering the bill.

A $140 million budget surplus announced by D.C. finance officials last month is also cause for hope. CHPSPO would like $23 million of that surplus to be used for school libraries, to restore high school and middle school materials, purchase new ereaders, magazine subscriptions, and 40,000 ebooks, upgrade school library and hire 57 new full-time librarians.

With 2,758 signatures on their online petition demanding for a minimum of part-time librarians in each school, and a second protest scheduled in front of the Wilson Building at City Hall this Friday October 19, CHPSPO expects to bring more energy to the effort to restore school libraries for the betterment, they say, of student learning.

“We hope to have teachers, students and parents come to support our effort,” says MacPherson.

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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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