March 15, 2023

Darren Loustsen: Why I’m Taking Pennridge School District To Court

Published by

Darren Loustsen is a parent on the Pennridge School District, a district that has been on the leading edge of passing rules to limit the right to read of its students. Loustsen watched those policies being passed. In the process of doing some research, Loustsen discovered that the district was involved in a different kind of ban.

I was somewhat stunned by the level of rhetoric being used that night.  Weighted words like “pornography,” “smut,” “filth,” and “criminal” were employed to describe library books. I needed to know what content would inspire such over-the-top language.  I immediately ordered my own copy of “Allegedly” from Amazon.

The next morning l navigated to the Pennridge High School library’s online card catalog. I stumbled across something peculiar.  “Looking for Alaska” by John Green ‘0 of 9 copies available.  Estimated wait in days: 358-359 Days.’  Every single copy of the young adult novel was checked out for an entire year.

I kept browsing. It turned out that the same was true for many other titles including (but not limited to): “Sold” by Patricia McCormick, “Flamer” by Mike Curato, “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg, “A Queer History of the United States for Young People” by Richie Chevat, “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah Maas, and (no surprise) “Allegedly” by Tiffany D. Jackson.  It would appear that the culling had officially begun.

It soon turned out that transparency was only for some people.

For several weeks, multiple parents emailed the district requesting a list of books pulled from circulation as a result of the new policy. To my knowledge, that request was denied in every instance. I submitted a “Right-to-Know” request for “any log that lists library books that have (or are currently being) challenged, reviewed, or removed.” After waiting over a month, that too was denied. According to the school district’s official response, no such record was being maintained.

Policy 109 was presented by the school board as a step toward better transparency for parents. I was starting to realize their promise was not going to be kept. But what I could not foretell was just how far the school district would go to remain opaque about this policy’s implementation.

I was growing increasingly concerned with the lack of due process. It is not typical practice to remove every single copy of a library book from circulation simply because a content concern is raised. A formalized review process is almost always conducted first, and for good reason. As explained by the Education Law Center: “Book removals by school districts that rely on irregular procedures without standards or a review process are more likely to violate the First Amendment.”  The district was seemingly following a guilty until proven innocent model for their book purging.

The superintendent refused to even admit that a list of suspended books exists.

Thankfully the Right-To-Know (RTK) Law exists in Pennsylvania. Members of the public have the right to access records from a government agency. It is for situations like this that the law was established.

I submitted an RTK request for a record that I knew must exist. A report from the Pennridge High School library database of “all titles checked out by those patrons that are NOT Students.” I waited 5 business days, with no response from the district. I immediately opened an appeal with the PA Office of Open Records. Soon after that, I was contacted by an attorney representing the Pennridge School District. She emailed me a report and requested that I withdraw my appeal. I opened the report and was surprised by the contents.

Not a single controversial book was listed on the report. Not even “Looking For Alaska.” According to the online catalog, nothing had changed. All of these books were still checked out and all still not due back until September 2023.

You can read the rest of his attempt to get answers from the district here. 

Share this:

Readers wishing to comment on the content are encouraged to do so via the link to the original post.

Find the original post here:

View original post