An Ontario district school board is rooting out books from its school library collections that are considered “harmful,” but some trustees are raising concerns about censorship and fear the move resembles a book banning.
The policy is part of the Waterloo Region District School Board’s (WRDSB) operational plans for 2021-2022, which aims to achieve “an organizational culture rooted in human rights and equity,” according to the agenda for the board’s Oct. 25 meeting.
Graham Shantz, the co-ordinating superintendent in human resources and equity services for the board, told trustees at the meeting that library collection reviews are ongoing by both elementary and secondary school panels.
“We recognize as our consciousness around equity, oppression work, and anti-racist work has grown [that] some of the texts in the collections that we have are not appropriate at this point,” Shantz said.
“We will be doing a review of each of our library collections at each of our schools over the next few years and removing any of those texts that can be harmful to either staff or students.”
The WRDSB, which serves over 64,000 students in 121 schools, has already begun the review to examine the contents of each school library, a process that is expected to take two to three years.
Shantz said that in the effort to promote diversity, the libraries “have done a great job adding collections” but haven’t put the same effort into “removing inappropriate [texts], or texts that are questionable and don’t have the pedagogical frameworks that we need.”
The criteria the board is using to determine which books are “harmful” was not discussed at the meeting.
While the review currently does not involve literature or materials taught in the classroom, Shantz suggested expanding the plan to cover classroom collections or “mini-libraries” assembled by individual educators.
“Part of the work that we want to do is also propose this framework so teachers can expand their consciousness [and] utilize the framework to evaluate what they have in their classroom as well,” he said.
Some trustees have expressed concerns that the measure amounts to “book banning,” and is in fact censorship under the disguise of equity.
“Not only as a person of colour on the board but also after being around for many years now, my concern is that the criteria for banning books comes only from staff being informed by a select few,” trustee Mike Ramsay told the National Post.
“Parents and taxpayers should have more of a right to say what is done with their own children and their own money. I find this very troubling.”
Trustee Cindy Watson said there is a concern that “the books will just go away and no one will ever know.” She said she is preparing a motion to present at the next board meeting to increase transparency in the reviewing process, as there is little information about the process or “if it will include students or parents or community members, or whether there will be any consultation.”
“People have a huge connection to literature. Some people are concerned this is going to be a book banning,” Watson told the National Post.