NAACP hosts MCPS administrators during membership meeting
Deborah Riedl, Director of elementary curriculum instruction and digital learning & Danielle Livengood, director of Secondary Curriculum, Instruction, and Digital Learning for MCPS speak during the NAACP membership meeting on April 16. [Ocala Gazette]
The Marion County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hosted a general membership meeting April 16 at the Union Missionary Baptist Church in Dunnellon. During the meeting, two hot button topics were addressed by Marion County School District administrators: discipline and prohibited books.
Deborah Riedl, Director of elementary curriculum instruction and digital learning for Marion County Public Schools (MCPS), addressed concerns expressed about library books and answered questions from the crowd.
Riedl explained that each of the 50 plus schools in Marion County has a media specialist assigned.
“They have a very big job,” said Riedl and offered for “context” that “when we talk about books, book challenges, controversial books and things like that, that’s one small piece of what they do on a day-to-day basis.”
They oversee the scholastic book fairs that usually happen twice a year as fundraisers for the school’s library. They plan career days, teach internet safety courses, host reading hours and family nights. Some teach classes, she said.
Media specialists also oversee the media festival.
“I’m not sure if any of you heard about this or attended on Friday night, but we have hundreds of students around our county who create videos in multiple categories and they present those and then they win awards,” Riedl said.
“Our media specialists are usually in charge of or in some way a big part of the morning show that happens at every school,” she added.
“Many of our library libraries are the family resource center so parents can come in and check out resources or books at any time. I think a lot of parents don’t know that they can certainly visit a school, any school library, and check out books or materials themselves,” she said.
Riedel told the crowd that MCPS was ahead of the curve in addressing concerns about the appropriateness of certain books.
“We started hearing about in other districts the fact that certain books were being challenged, and typically the people who were challenging these books were looking for material that they felt was harmful to minors—inappropriate content, obscene things,” she said. “We’ve been very lucky because this has been happening around the state for the past couple of years. We wanted to get ahead of this because we knew at some point this is coming to Marion County and we are going to have challenges and we are going to have to have to deal with this. We’ve had a book challenge process in place for years. The last time books were challenged in Marion County was in 2018.”
New legislation has also required special training now for all library media specialists.
“They have to take a training on the Department of Education website. That training came out on January 1st and all of our media specialists were trained on January 4,” said Riedl.
Riedl said all book orders were put on hold until all of the media specialists were trained as the state required.
She explained that media specialists come up with a list of books they’d like to order by taking recommendations from teachers, students or scholastic resources. Now, due to the new legislation, Riedl says the media specialist’s book choices must go through a committee. The committees are made up of community members and parents.
Some in the crowd expressed concerns that the committees would not have a diverse makeup.
Danielle Livengood, director of Secondary Curriculum, Instruction, and Digital Learning for MCPS, encouraged those in the audience to volunteer.
Marion County NAACP branch president, Bishop J. David Stockton, echoed Livengood’s encouragement to the crowd to volunteer.
Riedl said the school district also increased its transparency on the book selection and library selections by increasing information on their website about which books have been pulled for review and what is stocked in their libraries.
In order to address specific parent concerns about books, MCPS allows for a parental choice to be indicated for each student what the parent wants restricted, but also what books the parents allows their child to read or to indicate they place no restrictions at all on what their child reads. The notes are put under the child’s name.
“This way, anytime the child comes to check out a book, that alert will pop up and the child will not be allowed to check out that book [restricted by the parent],” explained Riedl.
Some in the audience expressed concerns that there were rumors of books related to Black authors or racial issues that were being banned from students.
Riedl indicated that the titles she’d been made aware of thus far were related primarily to things some people considered “obscene” or “inappropriate” and not necessarily race related.
Thus far, Riedl said, one book from the elementary library had been reviewed by a committee and found inappropriate for elementary age children, but acceptable for middle and high school.
One person had recently filed 30 formal complaints to library books in secondary grades, and the books had been pulled until the committee could review each. However, many of the titles school administrators had already pulled.
“Well, you watch the news I don’t need to tell you that we’re living in a very aggressive and a violent time right now, that these crimes are coming into our schools and we’re trying really hard to keep them out. But it is, it is a sad time that we’re in,” Livengood told the crowd.
“So, here’s what my appeal to you is, if you can really encourage your friends, neighborhoods to really talk, to really look through our code of student conduct. We have students getting in trouble every week, and their parents are devastated, and they come to us and the first thing they say honestly is, ‘I had no clue that this behavior would lead them to an expulsion or require an alternative placement.’”
As an example, Livengood pointed to one of the newer issues they faced with student discipline: vaping.
“Vaping devices are now our leading offense in Marion County: 176 students have been alternatively placed this year for sneaking in a vaping device with THC in it into classes and bathrooms. They will walk right by you, and you will not know what’s happening.”
“We’re asking for help to tell the parents. Don’t be naive. This is happening. It is right… but what’s the phrase, ‘Right beneath their nose?’”
To help parents keep up with the growing list of things that need to be addressed in the school’s code of student conduct, MCPS created a new interactive code search option on its website.
“So, if you typed in vaping, it would show you our definition of vaping. It would show you the consequences. It will show you the length of time [for discipline]. We also are working with our schools to create a matrix that makes [disciplinary measures] consistent for all schools. That way, a student at Romeo is receiving the same consequences for behavior that is seen at Legacy Elementary,” Livengood said.
To learn more about Marion County Public Schools, including the student codes of conduct, visit marionschools.net
For information about the local branch of the NAACP, find them at facebook.com/NAACPofMarionCounty/