Shenandoah County parents invited to review textbooks as book challenges remain hot button issue

Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 6:44 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Starting Wednesday, Shenandoah County parents will have the chance to review new textbooks that Shenandoah County Public Schools is considering adopting.

The textbook review is an annual process, but there may be more eyes on it this year. Challenging controversial books in schools has been a hot topic around the country and the state. Rockingham County Schools has already been dealing with it.

“It does make a difference whether a book is assigned reading or is in the library for voluntary reading where a family can make that choice and so that’s the question. Does one family get to tell another family which books their child can check out?” said Dr. Oskar Scheikl, superintendent of Rockingham County Public Schools.

Challenging controversial books in schools has been a common talking point for parents at Rockingham County School Board meetings. However, the school division hasn’t seen an increase in formal complaints being filed.

“What has increased is the chatter. Chatter online, chatter at board meetings. So while we haven’t seen the formal complaints I certainly think it’s a national phenomenon,” said Scheikl.

During Monday’s school board meeting, a parent spoke about the book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie. The book is in a county middle school library and the parent was concerned about the explicit content in the book.

However, a parent had previously filed a complaint about the book and it had already been reviewed.

“We’ve already had a complaint about the book and the committee decided to change who it’s available to so it’s only available to eighth graders at that school,” said Scheikl.

The review process for challenged books involves a five-person committee of two parents and three staff members who read the entire book and consider a number of factors.

“Context is important so there’s an evaluation of what’s the value of the book. If there’s a troubling passage that people object to is that painted as positive or negative in the book? All those things matter,” said Scheikl.

Dr. Scheikl said another factor to consider is that the school division wants to offer something for all students when it comes to books in its libraries.

“It’s a tough proposition. You want to make sure that there is a variety of reading materials that students can really find themselves in and feel represented,” he said.

Scheikl encourages any parent with concerns about a book to contact their child’s school and file a media complaint form.

“It’s important to also understand that just like with everything we don’t always get it right. That’s why there is a process if there’s a complaint,” he said.

In Shenandoah County, parents will have from March 30 until April 12 to review new textbooks. SCPS also has a formal process for parents to challenge learning materials they find inappropriate.

Copyright 2022 WHSV. All rights reserved.