Parents can now challenge Virginia Beach school library books, but council member says it’s not enough – The Virginian-Pilot

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Virginia Beach school system on Tuesday updated its regulations for parent review and challenge of educational materials to clarify that library books can be challenged. The move came after school board member Victoria Manning complained on social media that parents and townspeople could not do so due to changes made by Superintendent Aaron Spence in June.

In a video posted to the Students First VA Facebook page, a political action group, Manning said the superintendent’s changes limit citizens’ ability to challenge library books they find sexually explicit. However, Chief of Staff Donald Robertson said during Tuesday’s informal session that much of what Manning said in the video was not true.

“These misleading claims take valuable time on the part of school staff to address, directing them away from the tasks that most benefit students, staff, this division, the wider community, and they have a negative impact on staff morale,” Robertson said.

The previous version of the rules available on the division website Tuesday evening, did not state that parents and adult students could challenge library books. He was referring to teaching materials. A new version of the policy provided to The Virginian-Pilot included a new line that included library books.

Manning said she raised her concerns about the published version with Assistant City Attorney Kamala Lannetti, who told her she was interpreting the settlement to mean that it only applied to the books of library used in the program. Following Robertson’s clarifications, Manning said she was glad parents could challenge the books, but she still believed citizens should be able to as well.

Manning and Students First VA, to which she is linked, have used the division’s reconsideration request process to have books removed from shelves that they describe as sexually explicit and inappropriate for children. Recently, this resulted in several books being removed from school libraries after a committee reviewed them, while others remained. Many Facebook users on the Students First VA page accused the district of “porn trafficking”.

“I don’t appreciate being called a porn peddler,” Robertson said.

Chair Carolyn Rye, who did not attend the informal session and workshop due to travel, issued a written statement to Vice Chair Kimberly Melnyk. In it, she asked council members to remain civil as they prepare for the November elections.

The statement read: “Certain recent and concerning public comments have been brought to my attention by colleagues and constituents. I respectfully ask each of you to keep our code of ethics in mind, stick to the issues, and avoid personally disparaging your colleagues, either directly or through innuendo.

Six of the 11 board seats are up in November. Students First VA advocated for candidates who support efforts to remove obscene books from school libraries.

Robertson explained that citizens can challenge school materials under another bylaw, 7-12.1. This is separate from the policy that allows parents, legal guardians, and adult students to challenge school materials and library books. Although citizens may take issue with the instructional materials used in the course curriculum, Robertson said legal counsel has determined that with respect to library books, citizens who do not have children in the school division do not have “interest in the level of challenge”.

Robertson also detailed a process for regularly briefing the school board ahead of its monthly meetings so everyone is aware, which was among Manning’s complaints about the changes. The division’s website also outlines policy and bylaw updates by month.

Robertson said that over the past nine months, one citizen, two parents and one board member submitted 16 challenges. The council member submitted 11. He added that the division has not seen as many challenges despite having similar policies and regulations in place.

The school board establishes general policies, according to its regulations. The administration develops regulations under these policies.

The public comment policy was also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. A draft update presented to the board would limit public participation so that comments on topics not on the meeting agenda would be heard at the end of the meeting. These non-agenda items would also be limited to 30 minutes or 10 people.

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This project was rejected by the members of the board of directors because it was too restrictive.

Board member Beverly Anderson had previously voted in favor of changing the bylaws so that topics related to items not on the agenda would not be aired. However, she said she did not know when the restrictions on time and number of speakers were added.

“I don’t remember seeing that,” she said. “He must have escaped us.”

This comes more than a month after several Virginia Beach managers spoke out that the current public comment policy does not protect division staff from “slanderous opinions” shared in televised meetings.

Most board members argued that there was no need to change the policy.

No vote was taken on Tuesday, although it could be brought before the board at a later date. As a bylaw, it would take at least seven council members voting in favor of the change for it to be approved.

Kelsey Kendall, [email protected]

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