Cobb school board member proposing updates to library book policy

Becky Sayler arms crossed smiling

Photo from Becky Sayler’s election campaign

By Rebecca Gaunt

Cobb County Board of Education member Becky Sayler announced Wednesday that she will propose updates to the Cobb County School District’s media policy at Thursday’s meeting.

Her proposal follows the district’s decision to pull “Flamer” by Mike Curato and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews after a complaint about the books from the out-of-state social media account Libs of Tik Tok.

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The school board also voted 4-3 along party lines in opposition to the district-appointed tribunal’s recommendation to reinstate Due West Elementary teacher Katie Rinderle, and terminated her employment after she did a lesson based on the gender-themed picture book “My Shadow is Purple.”

READ MORE HERE: The battle over books in Cobb County Schools – Cobb County Courier

In an email to the public, Sayler wrote:

 The goal of this policy update is two-fold:

1)  explicitly state our commitment to high-quality resources

2)  give clear guidance on the process by which books and materials are reconsidered.

The current policy affirms the goal of intellectual freedom for our students, a worthy goal that we should still strive for 11 years after this policy’s adoption. Given the new state laws we’ve had in the past few years and some recent challenges, it is important to make this update in order to give our students access to books that will nurture their intellectual freedom, give teachers clear direction on what resources are permitted, and give the community the assurance that we have a clear policy on book restrictions or removals.

Sayler’s proposed updates add additional details to the policy that was created in 2012.

Under the district media committee’s role of “selecting media and instructional materials,” Sayler added that content which has received awards or is being used in competition will be allowed.

“Flamer” won the 2021 Lambda Literary Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The volunteer organizers for Cobb’s Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl quit in the wake of Rinderle’s firing and the removal of the books.

Sayler’s draft also allows use of significant texts from world religions.

That’s followed by the line, “the media committee may determine if any of the titles in lines 1-3 require restriction or removal according to applicable laws or regulations.”

The district committee would be responsible for requests to reconsider materials, “including whether or not titles should be removed or restricted.”

Media committees at individual schools would not be able to override a decision for the entire district.

Sayler will need the support of at least one Republican on the board for her suggestions to pass since she is part of the Democratic minority.

In a fiery speech at the September board meeting, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale called the removal of the books a matter of good and evil. 

“So if you need someone to blame for deciding to remove the books ‘Flamer’ and ‘Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,’ you can blame me,” he said.

Sayler wrote, “My hope is that we will discuss this tomorrow as a board and then get input from constituents before making any amendments and taking a vote at our next meeting on November 9 , 2023.”

The work session begins at 1:30 p.m. and the voting session is at 7 p.m. at 514 Glover St. Meetings stream live on the district website.

Rebecca Gaunt earned a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s degree in education from Oglethorpe University. After teaching elementary school for several years, she returned to writing. She lives in Marietta with her husband, son, two cats, and a dog. In her spare time, she loves to read, binge Netflix and travel.

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