Katy ISD seeks feedback for school library book selection

By George Slaughter, News Editor
Posted 12/14/21

The Katy Independent School District is launching an app to enable parent feedback on books purchased for district school libraries.

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Katy ISD seeks feedback for school library book selection

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The Katy Independent School District is launching an app to enable parent feedback on books purchased for district school libraries.

The app, called “Partner with Parents Online Book Review,” is set to launch at 2 p.m. Friday at the district website, Superintendent Dr. Ken Gregorski said in a letter sent Monday to district parents, guardians and staff.

District officials will use the feedback to decide whether a particular title is suitable for school libraries. Books under review will continue to be available until officials decide whether to keep it. The district said it hopes to have a decision on a given book in 30 days.

The district said parents and guardians can be notified of any library book checked out by their student or students.

At Monday’s trustee meeting, one critic said she hoped parents would become involved in the process to identify and remove offensive books, but also wanted to see a timeline and metrics to accomplish these things. Mary Ellen Cuzela, a substitute teacher in the district, did not appear pleased by the introduction of the app.

“Let’s not have a slick tool that does nothing but help your PR,” Cuzela said.

Concerns expressed over library book selections

District officials developed the app in response to public concerns raised about some books in school libraries. In September, a group of parents led in part by Katy resident and parent Sarah Feigleson brought two books to attention of trustees. Those books are “Lawn Boy,” by Jonathan Evison, and “Losing a Girl” by MariNaomi. Those books were temporarily removed from school library shelves.

Trustees heard excerpts from six other titles critics deemed offensive at their Nov. 15 meeting.

Concerns were also expressed in an open letter to trustees that was published in various local media outlets, including the Katy Times. In that letter, Katy resident David Feigleson, Sarah Feigleson’s father-in-law, wrote that these books do not educate about the true meaning of human sexuality.

“Instead these books treat the body as an object to be exploited casually and deprive its true meaning,” Feigleson wrote.

Feigleson’s letter urged trustees to use their authority to “urgently and permanently remove these books and put in place a policy to not allow books” containing misleading harmful and immoral content.

In an interview before Monday’s meeting, Feigleson described Gregorski’s letter as unsatisfactory, adding that he felt a staff lawyer probably wrote the note.

Feigleson said his issue wasn’t with Gregorski personally, but with trustees who have not reacted in a timely manner despite learning about the books in September, and again last month.

“Students can get these books from other places if they want them, but it’s not the district’s responsibility to provide them,” Feigleson said. He said the district should review other titles in the libraries. He said mothers of students would help but it was the district’s responsibility to do the checking and removal as needed.

He described the two books cited as “very vulgar.”

Sarah Feigleson said before the meeting that she felt the app presented a “really nice way for parents to complain privately about materials” in schools.

However, she said the letter provided no timeline with deliverables on what would happen and when.

“There’s no new policy outline in the email that would direct librarians in the creation of content for their libraries,” Feigleson said. “We don’t know who is in charge of the process. They didn’t name a team (to address the situation), and that is concerning. To a lot of parents, it feels like another way to silence the issue.”

Feigleson said the decision to purchase a particular book or books comes on recommendations from groups such as the American Library Association and other credible groups that suggest appropriate library content.

“I’ve never seen a frond-end policy that guides our librarians on spending our tax dollars on this,” Sarah Feigleson said. “A policy exists when parents want to remove a book. It’s very clear, but it takes a lot to remove a book. It takes very little to get a book into a library.”

Another issue is what constitutes “pervasively vulgar,” Feigleson said.

“I think that’s a very soft way to define what is inside of these young adult novels,” Feigleson said. “It is pornography and to call it anything else is wrong.”

District addresses concerns

In his letter, Gregorski wrote that he understood the concerns the issue has caused.

“Parents have questioned how certain books have been accessible for check-out from Katy ISD libraries,” Gregorski wrote. “The answer is for many years, Katy ISD, like many other school districts, has relied upon the recommendations of school library journal reviews to navigate and screen the thousands of book options available to school districts each year.”

Gregorski wrote that the district realizes that this process has failed. He said the district is reevaluating its process.

Gregorski wrote that the district’s plan, when established, will accomplish two goals. The first goal is to improve the process for reviewing all current district selections of young adult literature. The second goal is that the selection process ensures that materials purchased in the future will not be pervasively vulgar.

Gregorski wrote that an internal review found a “handful” of books that violated the board policy and have been removed from school libraries.

David Feigleson said Gregorski’s letter said that while Katy might have followed the procedures used by other school districts, he and others weren’t necessarily interested in what the other districts do.

“We live in Katy,” Feigleson said. “Do your job.”

Katy ISD, school library books, KISD

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