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IWCS to allow parents to monitor library checkouts

In response to backlash from parents over Smithfield High School’s “Read Woke” challenge, Isle of Wight County Schools plans to allow parents remote access to their children’s library accounts to see what they’re reading.

At the School Board’s Sept. 9 meeting, Chairwoman Jackie Carr had asked Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton to look into the possibility of creating a system that would email a student’s parents every time he or she checked out a book from a school library. Thornton reported back to her at the board’s Oct. 14 meeting that the software Isle of Wight’s school libraries use doesn’t have an option to automatically alert parents every time a student checks out a book.

To do so manually, Thornton said, would be a “multi-step, time-consuming process,” since students can now check out books electronically without a librarian present.

At Georgie D. Tyler Middle School alone, 367 books were checked out Sept. 9 and 10 this year, Thornton said. Smithfield High School averaged 50 checkouts per day in 2019.

But the checkout system can be reconfigured to allow parents to log into their children’s accounts from their home computers.

“There’s some work to it, but it can be done,” Thornton said.

The School Board took no vote on the matter.

“It really doesn’t have to be an action item; I can put that in place,” Thornton told Smithfield District School Board member Denise Tynes when she asked if a formal motion was needed.

Once in place, the system will allow parents concerned with what their children are reading to “go in at a click of a button and look at what they’ve checked out,” Thornton said.

In the meantime, Thornton encouraged parents to go through the steps spelled out in Isle of Wight’s existing policy for challenging books and other learning resources.

“You don’t solve anything by screaming,” he said.

According to Susan Goetz, the school system’s executive director of leadership, that policy involves the parent filling out a form and submitting it to the child’s principal. The principal would then convene a committee consisting of himself or herself, the school’s librarian, the teacher who assigned the book (if applicable), a parent and/or a student to decide whether the book is appropriate.

Only two parents have initiated this process since the start of the current school year, Goetz said. 

Per School Board Policy KLB, a parent who disagrees with the committee’s recommendation can appeal to Thornton or the superintendent’s designee, and finally, to the School Board if still dissatisfied.

“That’s when we get involved,” Carr said.

The form, titled “request for reconsideration of learning resources,” is available to parents via the school system’s website under policy exhibit KLB-E.

Smithfield High’s “Read Woke” challenge, which the school began in November and reprised this school year, encourages students to voluntarily read social justice-themed books from a list of 70 titles available at the school’s library. Some parents have objected to the profanity and sexual content in some of the books during the public comment period at recent School Board meetings, while others have argued the books’ focus on race relations is divisive.