New Jersey Parents Angry Over Library Rules, Internet Access

Book circulation rules and internet filter failures caused outrage among parents in two towns in northern New Jersey.

This month, New Jersey elementary school student parents in two towns expressed anger with their boards of education and spoke out publicly about changes to library rules, as well as a lack of internet security.

In Mahwah, parents took to social media after the district changed the rules on elementary school students this year, limiting the number of times they can take out a book. In some schools, children were now only allowed to check out titles every other week. In another elementary school in the district, it was once every three weeks. Parents tweeted that such limitations were unprecedented and unacceptable. They called local newspapers and television stations. Opponents of the new policy—which was put in place to allow for more STEAM and digital literacy lessons during student time in the library—cited a drop in book circulation numbers and vowed to pack the next board of education meeting to insist that books not be lost to the tech being taught in libraries instead.

At that board meeting, however, superintendent C. Lauren Schoen struck back at those news reports, saying the drop in circulation was much lower than cited, the assertion that the change was made for budgetary reasons was incorrect, and that the idea the district was not prioritizing literacy or reading was also wrong. The district, she said, was simply trying to meet state standards and give all students equal access to the best education and foundation for the future. She explained in detail the process and reason behind the change and spoke of digital literacy and citizenship, its connection to reading, and the classroom libraries where students can access books every week. She also talked about the district’s library media specialists and their growing role in the district.

“Updating and enhancing the role of the library media specialist at the elementary level allows our students to experience a wide variety of literacy and learning experiences,” she said. “While there is an opportunity for book circulation, our student experiences are enriched by developmentally appropriate activities that promote collaboration, problem solving, analysis, expansive thinking, metacognition--all skills needed to be active, enthusiastic, young readers inclusive of the use of technology.”

Benchmark evaluation of the schedule change and new curriculum will take place in January and will include the library media specialists, according to Schoen.

Technology was at the center of another issue a few nights later at a board of ed meeting in nearby in Ridgewood where a parent told the board that a classmate showed her eight-year-old son a sexual murder video on a school-issued Chromebook on the school network during school hours last year. She asked for logs of what her son viewed but was told they did not go that far back. Previously, she said, she had asked the district’s IT about safeguards and been assured this kind of thing could not happen.

The parent then said she talked to another parent who told her of an elementary student who watched a suicide video at school on the Chromebook and that children in the district are also accessing porn. She suggested to the board that elementary students should not have access to the internet at all, but instead only be on an intranet, and that parents should be able to see everything their children see during the day.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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