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School media center handbook gets tentative approval

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During the April 26 school board workshop, three school media specialists appeared before the school board with Michelle Barash, Supervisor of Elementary Programs to seek tentative school board approval on the school district media handbook they developed. The women formalized the media handbook for the school district in order to meet new state regulations. There hasn’t been a handbook approved by the school board for quite some time, but they’ve been using an unapproved version to guide their daily operations and responsibilities. There will be additional changes to the handbook later in the year as there is legislation pending the governor’s signature which will affect media specialists.

Currently, there are six media specialists employed by the school district. The three media specialists who helped develop the handbook work in a school full time: Liz Marion at Deltona Elementary, Debbye Warrell at Challenger K8, and Stacey Hartwell at Suncoast Elementary. The other three media specialists have a myriad of other duties and are not necessarily connected to a single school. 2014 was the last year there was a media specialist for each of the district’s 23 schools.

The handbook consists of four sections. The first section is an introduction that includes the mission, purpose, goals, roles, and responsibilities. The second section specifies policies and guidelines that should be followed such as in educational materials selection or when media or materials are challenged. The third section deals with how the collection is managed and the fourth section addresses media activities such as book fair procedures and library celebrations.

Some discussion occurred about challenged media and materials, a subject that has received recent attention as several parents in Hernando have identified and challenged school library books with sexually explicit content.

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The media specialists stated that typically parents will ask for their child not to be allowed access to a certain book and a note is made on the student’s account. The situation is usually resolved on the parent level, and escalation to media being challenged is rare.

According to the handbook, the challenged media or materials policy requires the annual formation of a Media Advisory Committee for each school which consists of at least five representatives from the following areas: Administration, teacher, parent, grade 11 or 12 student when dealing with high school material, and a community member.

When a complaint is received, the principal, complainant, staff member involved, and media specialist will meet to resolve the issue. If the issue is not resolved, then the complainant will need to submit the “Request for Reconsideration of Media/Instructional Materials Form” within five days. At this time the principal must notify the Superintendent’s office of the challenged material complaint. The challenged material will remain available to students unless the Superintendent or designee says otherwise.

Then the school’s media advisory committee will be convened. They will have 15 working days to read, review, discuss the material and submit their decision to the principal. The principal will advise the complainant and Superintendent of the decision.

If the complainant is still not satisfied with the decision, they have the option of submitting the District Media materials review form which leads to the same process on a district-wide level which culminates in a recommendation to the school board for action during a public meeting.

There is also a process outlined for a parent or county resident to contest the adoption of certain instructional materials which involves filing a petition and a formal hearing. Within fourteen days after the hearing, the hearing officer must submit a recommended order to the Board. The school board then enters a final order at a publicly noticed Board meeting.

Important Florida statutes are referenced in the handbook such as:
847.0133 Protection of minors; prohibition of certain acts in connection with obscenity; penalty.—
(1) A person may not knowingly sell, rent, loan, give away, distribute, transmit, or show any obscene material to a minor. For purposes of this section “obscene material” means any obscene book, magazine, periodical, pamphlet, newspaper, comic book, story paper, written or printed story or article, writing paper, card, picture, drawing, photograph, motion picture film, figure, image, videotape, videocassette, phonograph record, or wire or tape or other recordings, or any written, printed, or recorded matter of any such character which may or may not require mechanical or other means to be transmuted into auditory, visual, or sensory representations of such character, or any article or instrument for obscene use, or purporting to be for obscene use or purpose. The term “obscene” has the same meaning as set forth in s. 847.001.
(2) As used in this section “knowingly” has the same meaning set forth in s. 847.012(1). A “minor” is any person under the age of 18 years.
(3) A violation of the provisions of this section constitutes a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

During the school board workshop on April 26, the media specialists were asked to describe their current roles, the challenges they face, and what they’d like to see in the future.

Media specialist Liz Marion stated that many of the paraprofessionals (paras) who work in the media centers without a media specialist are strapped thin.

“I think many of our paras are stretched past their pay grade and their training and asked to do a lot more than what they are being compensated for.”

Her colleague Debbye Warrell remarked, “With the library media specialists, you get to know your clientele, you get to know your students, you get to know your parents, you get to know your community. Each one of us has a different group of students so we have to look at the unique areas within our own schools. When you’re asking a paraprofessional, even my para who has worked with me for years… and they understand a lot of what we’re doing- when there’s an issue, when a principal needs to know how many of a specific book, do we have, you know, textbook-wise do we have enough for the incoming students? That’s something that we take a great deal of pride in and work in. And I’ve been around at the schools where we do not have a media specialist over the last couple of summers as new adoptions have come in, trying to get them barcoded, trying to get them into the system, and training.

“Again, like Liz said it’s way above what they’re being paid and the time that they’re in the buildings. Please understand paras are in the buildings when the kids are in the buildings and that’s it. They don’t get paid to come in during the summer. We don’t get paid to come in during summer.

“We do it anyway for our schools- to make sure everything is in and a good portion of the materials when they come in do come in during the summer. Trying to get that processed, barcoded, and then back out to the teachers in a timely manner, it’s just one aspect of what we do. Being held accountable, being able to go through and talk to our different grade levels,
talk to our parents about what materials we do have. I’ve had the same conversation with my parents that Liz has had over the years. I’ve never had the challenge to go past the conversation I’ve had with the parent. We’ve been able to come to an agreement. If you do want your child to be able to read other books, we have forms available where they can sign off.”

Media specialist Stacey Hartwell described her duties as a media specialist on rotation.
“I see a kindergarten through fifth-grade class, every 40 minutes every day, not to mention the textbooks that need to be checked in, checked out to teachers and students, not to mention the phone calls from the schools saying ‘how do you do this?’”

At any given time she says, “I have a kindergarten class waiting for their story and I have a teacher waiting for textbooks… It’s me, myself, and I. Not only do we do the textbooks, we also do the laptops, the computers, the projectors, the Elmos, we take care of those, we change their bulbs. We do everything.”

Board members expressed their support for allocating the resources to once again getting a media specialist in every school.

School board member Jimmy Lodato stated, “I think that we need to move forward to making an investment in that category to make sure that we have a media specialist in every single school. That should be our goal and our objective as a board…

I know that sounds like it’s expensive, but we really need to look at that as an investment.”

Superintendent Stratton stated, “Adding 17 media specialists across the board, you’re looking at anywhere from $800 (thousand) to $1.1 million dollars. So that’s just a rough guess-timate. ”

“I think incrementally is the way to look at that without a pot of money, falling out of the sky that we’re not aware of right now… We all know that we will grow in core (subjects) before we grow anywhere else. But there also has to be supports that come along with that. And then included the district level, there needs to be oversight and support that come with all of this growth.

“We probably have fewer people overseeing our budget than we did in 2005-2010 – somewhere before cuts – that our budget went from about a $180 million/ $160 million budget to now with ESSER approaching $400-$500 million… I think we’ve run about $260 million without ESSER.”

(ESSER stands for “Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief.” These funds were provided to school districts as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.)

School board member Susan Duval stated that she’d like to see additional media specialists added for the 2022-2023 school year and asked the Superintendent to return to the board with a plan to make that happen which may involve budget cuts.

“I’m not real happy we don’t have something in place for 2022-2023. I know it’s a problem. I don’t want to start a problem… I think we’re all committed to the schools and the employees. So if this board has to look at the budget and see what we need to cut, this board will do it.., I’m just tired of waiting,” Duval said.

The school board gave tentative approval on the handbook.

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