Cobb school board votes to leave authority to remove books with superintendent

Drawing of a stack of books

By Rebecca Gaunt

In a 5-2 vote at the work session, the Cobb County Board of Education voted to reject Post 2 board member Becky Sayler’s proposal to place decision-making responsibility for removing books from school libraries with a media committee of educators and media specialists.

In August, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale removed the books “Flamer” by Mike Curato and “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” by Jesse Andrews after the district received a complaint from the right wing social media account Libs of Tik Tok.

Ragsdale said that he removed a third book he didn’t name after it was reported by WSB-TV that it had been removed in another county.

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Sayler requested that the board discuss her suggested amendments to the district’s media policy and postpone the vote to November’s meeting, to allow time for community feedback. The policy hasn’t been updated since 2012.

“Obviously this has been brought about by a decision that I made,” Ragsdale said. “It would be my assumption in reading this that, had this policy been in place, that I would not have been able to remove the three books that I removed.”

Ragsdale called it unrealistic to expect media specialists to keep track of which students are permitted to check out books deemed restricted.

Post 4 board member David Chastain made a motion to reject Sayler’s proposal outright.

“I could never support a policy that gives an unelected organization authority to make decisions that Cobb families and educators should be making,” he said.

Sayler responded, “You don’t want an unelected body to be making decisions. Right now you have one unelected person making the decision to pull, and so this would make the decision be a group of people instead of one individual’s opinion.”

Chastain said, as the policy is written, it’s the superintendent and his agents making the decisions. He also called her proposal “micromanaging the superintendent” and a violation of state law.

“I’m very concerned personally that we’re spending more time on keeping pornography in the high school as opposed to supporting parents and the values of the majority of our community,” Chastain said.

Sayler shot back, “This policy would definitely not have pornography in the schools. That’s illegal, and that’s not something that this policy is looking to change.”

She added that the superintendent could be part of the media committee.

Post 6 board member Nichelle Davis tried to seek clarification on what procedure Ragsdale is currently using to decide whether a book should be removed.

“It does not matter the method or whom is providing us notification of ‘this book contains this kind of information.’ It doesn’t matter who it comes from,” Ragsdale said, adding that he is making the decision with input from his executive cabinet.

Davis continued to push for a clear, consistent policy.

“If a parent wants to make that material accessible to their student at home, by all means, that is their decision as a parent to provide obscene, pornographic and sexually explicit material to their child,” Ragsdale said.

He also argued that case law establishes that a superintendent has the authority to remove books. 

Democrat Leroy Tre’ Hutchins voted with the four Republican board members, Chastain, Brad Wheeler, David Banks, and Randy Scamihorn, to reject Sayler’s draft.

Afterward, Sayler told the Courier, “I am grateful to have had the chance to introduce a policy update during the board meeting. I’m disappointed that the conversation wasn’t more productive and that we still lack clarity on book removals.”

View the discussion in full on the district website here.

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