Age-appropriate books and superintendent surveys were hot topics at the Allendale school board meeting
Published April 4, 2023
Written by Athens
Photography by Simply American
When it comes to what is age-appropriate, should the Allendale school board care equally about protecting students’ bodies and minds? Is mental and emotional appropriateness of content a board concern?
And why are some board members hesitant for teachers to fill out a superintendent survey? A survey hasn’t been done in Allendale since 2020.
Unlimited Access To E-Books
The underlying theme of the Allendale school board comments concerning tobacco polices during the March 27, 2023, working meeting was: Why would we want our students to have access to what they are not legally of age to have in their possession?
Board member Kim Canata asked if the policy could require staff to lock up their personal cessation products to bar access from students. Additionally, Superintendent Dr. Garth Cooper recommended removing all verbiage related to education about tobacco, saying students can get that in health class. “I don’t think that’s why we’re here, to teach people about the tobacco (products).”
Fast forward to the next item on the agenda. Board member Liz Ramey shared that Allendale Public Schools’ website has a link accessible to all grades that allows students to search for any book on the Lakeland Library Cooperative catalog. Any book.
Ramey said that while she appreciates that students are required to have a parent-approved library card to check out a book, that doesn’t keep students from previewing books—sometimes being supplied a preview of 30 to 40 pages.
She said students may be looking at books their parents don’t approve of or don’t know about. She asked the board to look at “what we need to keep kids safe.” She added she would like “a better understanding of how our school filters content and what we have in place for kids that can access the site.”
“An example of a book accessible on the Lakeland site was provided by Vice President, Anna Hendricks. She explained the book, Slow Play, gives 57 pages of preview. “I’m appalled,” she said. “There’s a lot of obscenity. It’s totally adult content, a lot of profanity. There was another book called Sex Ed, a Guide for Adults.” She added, “This isn’t even the whole book. The samples are very obscene.”
There was debate from Canata who wondered how often a student finds the link, saying it would seem to be a very, very low probability and that, if a child did get there, it would be 57 pages of words he couldn’t read.
“If someone is looking for sex education for adults,” board member Pam DeJong said, “they’re going to use Google before they go through this process. I think this is just your way of nitpicking and starting a book ban.” She added, “So to remove a potential educational opportunity for really no reason than someone could look up information that someone’s parents don’t want them to see… That’s a parenting obligation. That’s not a board obligation.”
Hendricks quoted Allendale policy 7540.03:
“Pursuant to Federal law, the Board has implemented technology protection measures that protect against (e.g., filter or block) access to visual displays/depictions/materials that are obscene, constitute child pornography, and/or are harmful to minors, as defined by the Children’s Internet Protection Act. At the discretion of the Board or the Superintendent, the technology protection measures may be configured to protect against access to other material considered inappropriate for students to access. The Board also utilizes software and/or hardware to monitor online activity of students to restrict access to child pornography and other material that is obscene, objectionable, inappropriate and/or harmful to minors. The technology protection measures may not be disabled at any time that students may be using District Technology Resources, if such disabling will cease to protect against access to materials that are prohibited under the Children’s Internet Protection Act. Any student who attempts to disable the technology protection measures will be subject to discipline.”
She concluded by saying that students potentially having access to the Lakeland link goes against our policy.
“So completely not negating parental responsibility to any of this,” Ramey said, “That is the responsibility at home, by far and large. And on their phone, that’s parent responsibility whether they’re using it in school or not… Chromebooks, parents don’t necessarily have access to.”
“My question is what filters are in place with some of the content? How do we know when it is filtered where I’m not with my child, when they’re on their Chromebook at school?”
Public comments that addressed e-books focused on either being shocked that this type of access is given to all ages, or supportive to keep the link and not allow book banning.
One parent pointed out, “Book banning was never mentioned.” She added, “Thank you to those who are ready and willing to protect our children’s young eyes.”
More research will be done before the e-book issue is brought to a vote.
Staff Surveys—But Only For Some Staff
The other topic of interest was the survey for teachers and administrators regarding the superintendent and district. The last survey was done in 2020.
The board reviewed the questions drawn up by President Corey Mango and the superintendent. Mango explained part of the purpose for the survey would be for “taking a temperature of where our teachers are.”
Board member Josh Thurkettle said, “There’s no other workplace where non-direct reports fill out a survey regarding their non-direct employer… There’s nearly 400 people that work here, I have to imagine there are people that do not interact with Dr. Cooper. What I would find more valuable is specifically asking his direct reports very specific questions about their meetings and interactions with him… rather than having a ‘How do you feel?’ conversation.”
“So,” Thurkettle said, “whether or not we have 300 teachers who write and tell us we don’t think this, or like this, or feel this, that reality doesn’t have bearing on that point (of the evaluation).”
In response to the survey question that asks how teachers feel about the district or if they would go work in another district right now, Thurkettle said, “What does that have to do with evaluating the superintendent?”
Canata added, “Per Josh’s point, if this is truly for development of our superintendent and utilizing strengths and developing weaknesses, I think going to direct reports makes sense, instead of something that is so wide open and seems like a ‘gotcha’ type of thing.”
Additonally, DeJong had concerns over the letter that would accompany the survey. She was OK with the letter stating that the survey is anonymous and confidential, but she didn’t support that the recipient is asked to be “frank and honest.” She said doing so makes the survey sound like a “fishing expedition.”
Canata and DeJong also wanted to delay sending the survey out until the fall when it would be closer to the superintendent evaluation.
Ramey pointed out that if the survey were done now, the superintendent would have relevant information if there were things for him to work towards. She added, “Because a survey hasn’t been done in a while, it would help to get some teacher feedback on how they’re feeling about the school.
”One public commenter added her thoughts on the survey saying she “appreciated school board members who do want to hear about what our teachers are feeling, and how they think about the district and the superintendent.”
She added, “It’s also very interesting to see the immediate pushback from a few board members about this… Why would you not want to hear how teachers feel? What harm would it do to fill out a survey?”
The mission statement of the Allendale Board of Education is: “Allendale Public Schools commit to educate, inspire and support all students.”
Should the board consider whether the content used to educate, inspire and support all students is age appropriate and related to the curriculum?
Some would argue sexually graphic material is not appropriate or relative to the curriculum.