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Alpine School District approves sensitive materials policy

By Ashtyn Asay - | Sep 28, 2022

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Amanda Darrow, director of youth, family and education programs at the Utah Pride Center, poses with books that have been the subject of complaints from parents in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2021.

The Alpine School District Board of Education voted Tuesday evening to approve Policy 6161, Selection and Adoption of Instructional Materials.

A temporary pilot of the policy, which will guide employees in examining district materials, was approved at an ASD board meeting on Aug. 9 that ran through Monday. The policy has already undergone multiple revisions, and the latest version of the policy was passed with a 5-2 vote.

The policy had sparked heated debate throughout the community, with some parents claiming that it is too strict and infringes on students’ First Amendment rights, and others claiming that the policy is not strict enough. Ten individuals addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.

According to Policy 6161, a review committee is limited to one request at a time to review instructional or library materials. Greg Adams, a Pleasant Grove resident, expressed concern that this could seriously limit the number of materials reviewed in a given school year.

“I think as adults we can manage to review more than one piece of material at a time,” he said. “This is unacceptable.”

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald file photo

The library stands completed during a tour of Lake Mountain Middle School in Saratoga Springs on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.

Natalie Cline, a member of the Utah State Board of Education, spoke at the end of the public comment period, not without tension. ASD Board of Education member Ada Wilson originally said that it was against board rules for her to speak, as she does not live within the district. Cline represents District 11, though, which does represent ASD students living in Cedar Fort, Fairfield and corners of Lehi and Eagle Mountain so she was allowed to come to the microphone.

Cline did not mince words, stating that she felt Policy 6161 was not specific enough.

“I’ve had countless constituents and exasperated parents and teachers who have contacted me with serious concerns about the obscene books and other materials in their children’s schools,” Cline said. “The bottom line is that Alpine’s proposed materials policy is full of loopholes, subjectivity, strategic ambiguity, all creating contradictory guidance that only confuses those that are trying to do the right thing.”

Cline went on to claim that a substitute teacher working in ASD discovered books that had supposedly been deemed inappropriate and removed from the school in a teacher’s private classroom collection. Cline alleged that the substitute was then “blacklisted” from working in the district again.

“Alpine School District is making teachers and parents who want to follow the law pay a high price for doing so,” she said. “It is not right that a whistleblower on porn in schools should be retaliated against.”

Before the board voted on the policy, board member Sarah Beeson commented on how difficult the process has been workshopping Policy 6161.

“It’s been an arduous journey, and there have been many eyes on it,” Beeson said. “I didn’t get everything I wanted put into this policy, but I can honestly say it’s probably a fair compromise. And I think we are addressing concerns from parents while allowing feedback from our librarians who are concerned, and our teachers who are concerned, and those that are concerned about the First Amendment.”

According to Beeson, compromise has been essential in drafting the policy.

“That’s like a swear word, no one likes to hear the word compromise, but I think it’s crucial and you should expect that from your elected officials,” Beeson said. “To be able to look at things from a lens of logic and reasonability, and to make those decisions.”

There are 52 books currently being reviewed in the district, including 21 that feature LGBTQ+ characters or themes. According to board member Sara Hacken, none of these books are in ASD elementary schools.

“The impression you almost get is that our schools are flooded with really awful books, and that is just not the case,” Hacken said. “Many of our secondary schools have one or two titles, and they’ve never been checked out.”

According to superintendent Shane Farnsworth, the latest iteration of Policy 6161 is likely only a starting point. There are 23 committees currently reviewing materials in ASD, and Farnsworth predicted that more revisions will be made as additional committees review the policy.

“We have thought carefully, we’ve had a month to have some of these committees at schools work on it, we’ve taken their feedback on things that worked and things that didn’t, and I feel like we’ve tried to address most of the concerns that we’ve heard,” Farnsworth said. “I think there is a lot of work yet to do.”

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