District to keep some books, remove others in response to parent’s book challenge

Several students sit around tables in the Dearborn High library during a class visit in October 2022.

Dearborn Public Schools has announced the results of some book challenges filed by a parent over the summer. 

“We are pleased with the results of the book challenge as we want to ensure that our libraries have content that is appropriate for our students and that they do not provide material with gratuitous or unnecessarily graphic content,” said Adam Martin, Dearborn Public Schools executive director of student achievement for the Fordson feeder track.  Mr. Martin has also helped update the district’s media materials guidelines.

One of the challenged books will remain in the libraries.  Two will be removed, and one will be restricted to only the high school level.  Two of the books are still being considered, but both were only available through a digital service that is not currently available to students.  Another book that was not part of the initial challenge was also reviewed and will be retained.

The titles were the first books to be reviewed under the revamped Guidelines for the Selection and Review of Media Materials.  The parent who filed the challenges will be informed of the results and could opt to take the two books that were not removed to the Book Reconsideration process.  If that occurs, for each book a group of district staff and community members would read the book and then review it for age appropriateness in areas such as sexually explicit material, violent content, foul language and hate speech.  The Reconsideration Committee members would then vote whether to keep or remove the book.  In some cases, the committee could also recommend restricting the book to a higher grade level, but that does not apply in this circumstance.

The books that went through the initial challenge process and the results of that process are:

  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was deemed appropriate for high school and will remain on the shelves.
  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell was deemed inappropriate for middle school, but appropriate for high school.  Copies of the book will be removed from the middle schools that had it but remain at the high schools.
  • Push by Sapphire and Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston were both deemed inappropriate for high school and copies will be removed from the school libraries.
  • No decision has been made yet on All Boys Aren’t Blue by George Johnson and This Book is Gay by Juno Dawson, but neither book is currently available to students, nor were they part of the district’s collection.  Both were only available through Sora, but that ebook service is currently disabled for district students.
  • While it was not part of the initial list of challenged books, the district has also reviewed Flamer by Mike Curato.  That book will remain at the high school level.

“With roughly half a million books in our school libraries, we realize the likelihood that there could be a few books that were added over the years that parents and staff agree should not be there,” said Superintendent Dr. Glenn Maleyko. “However, we want to assure our parents that those books are few and far between and that, overall, our libraries provide a wide range of age-appropriate materials to encourage students to strengthen their academic skills and build a love of reading.”

The seven challenged titles represent 0.002 percent of the district’s collection of titles, which includes more than 300,000 titles and almost 500,000 books.

Putting the first group of challenged books through the updated Guidelines for the Selection and Review of Media Materials also gave the district the opportunity to evaluate the new process, recognizing the strengths and some areas that needed improvement.  

“Continuously improving means we are always looking at how to make things work better, and that is especially important for any new process. Using the new book challenge system for the first time showed us some areas that needed adjusting,” Mr. Martin said.  Accordingly, the Guidelines for the Selection and Review of Media Materials have been modified slightly regarding the book challenge process.

Parents have brought about a dozen other books to the attention of the media specialists at their child’s school, and those titles are also moving through the district’s book challenge process.

District media specialists are currently slowly weeding the entire library collection, removing books that are out-of-date, long unused, damaged, or inappropriate for the age of students in the building.  Meanwhile media secretaries are taking an inventory to make sure the books listed in the library catalog are actually on the shelves.

Dearborn Schools, along with other districts, is working with Sora about how each district can better control what titles are available to students.  It is unclear when, or if, the service will be reinstated for students. In the 21 months the district provided Sora, more than 31,000 digital books were checked out.  Last school year, Dearborn students had nearly 250,000 book checkouts from the school libraries.

Parents who are concerned about materials in their child’s school library have several options.  They can learn more about the process through a new webpage called “Media Material Guidelines and Parent Opt Out.”  The webpage also includes a one-page overview of their options and a list of Frequently Asked Questions.

First, parents are encouraged to talk to their child’s teacher, media specialist or principal about their concerns. 

Next, parents who are still concerned can use the Parent Opt Out form.  This form allows parents to opt students out of checking out either specific titles or all titles.  It is not possible for the district to restrict access to broad categories of books.

Finally, parents who are still concerned can contact the media specialist at their school to start a book challenge for that title.  A group of media specialists will then review the book, looking at age recommendations from the publisher and book reviews.  If the media specialists feel the book should remain, then the parent can ask that the book to continue on to the book reconsideration process. Parents, high school students, community members and district staff interested in serving on the reconsideration committee can sign up via a volunteer form

“We appreciate the parents who are working with us to address concerns about books in our school libraries,” said Board President Roxanne McDonald.  “Building a safe, welcoming environment in our district means accepting a very diverse group of students, helping all students learn to be good citizens  and teaching them to understand and accept those who are different.   Our school libraries need to support those goals along with the equally important goals of building strong readers and critical thinkers. They do this by providing an array of age-appropriate materials that are engaging and relatable to the students we serve.

“As a district, we remain committed to working with all of our parents and students to help them find a balance that is right for their family without imposing on the freedom of others.”

Other resources

One-page explanation of the media process for parents (English and Arabic) – This flyer provides a brief overview for parents who may be concerned about materials in our media centers.

Opt Out of Media Materials form – This form will allow parents or legal guardians to prevent their student from checking out certain titles.  It can also be used to keep their child from checking out any items from their Media Center. We would encourage parents to talk to their child’s teacher, the school principal or the media specialist before barring students from taking out any books.

School libraries Frequently Asked Questions

Guidelines for the Selection and Review of Media Materials – This document spells out how and why items are selected for the media center, explains the parents option to opt-out their child, and details the Book Challenge and Book Reconsideration processes.

Media center catalogs – Find the full list of materials available at your child’s media center. 

Book Reconsideration Committee volunteer form – Parents, students, staff and district community members interested in helping hear appeals about books parents would like removed from the school libraries can volunteer to serve on the Book Reconsideration Committee.  Volunteers agree to read the entire book in question, and participate in an evening meeting to discuss the book.  Please read the full Guidelines for the Selection and Review of Media Materials before volunteering, to better understand the process and what you are volunteering for.