By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
What started as a simple approval of the bills for USD No. 480 has turned into a point of controversy for local community members and parents.
At the regular school board meeting Monday, the bills were approved by a 7-0 vote, but one of those bills was a $603.60 purchase for library books that were under the title, “Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Lifestyles.”
Board president Reid Petty said he looked at the short description of the bills rather than the detailed list, a mistake he says he won’t make again.
“To be honest I didn’t see these books on the bills when I voted to approve them,” Petty said. “There are two separate versions of the bills, and I viewed the version that includes just the generic item purchased, who purchased it, and what the cost was. That version does not include the full details, and so I saw that the library was purchasing around $600 in books, but I didn’t see what the titles of the books were. That was my mistake, and from now on I will view the detailed version of the bills.”
But Petty started to receive calls, and he tried to explain that the library was not violating any policy, even though he personally did not agree with the material.
“I personally, not speaking on behalf of the board, do not support same sex marriage,” Petty said. “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. I even wrote a persuasive research paper in college a few years ago that opposed same sex marriage. People have the right to live their life however they so wish, but I do believe in the sanctity of marriage. So I personally do not agree with the content of the books, however, administration did follow the district’s policy to allow the books to be purchased.”
Superintendent Lance Stout said that the library has an obligation to provide material to a wide variety of views and subject matters.
“The books were selected for the Stafford Fairchild Library at Liberal High School to continue to provide high school students with books on a wide range of topics,” Stout said. “The media center is required to provide materials to reflect the ideas of varied social groups thereby enabling students to develop intellectual integrity in forming them. That is kind of the rationale behind this.”
But local resident Bill Mills, who has had his students go through the school district and is now a grandparent of students, thought the material was inappropriate for a high school library.
“I do have concerns with any literature going out like that,” Mills said. “I don’t want my kids to have access to that.”
Mills said it is not the acceptable view that homosexual tendencies is an accepted option, and he couldn’t believe that all members of the board supported the purchase.
“I was shocked it was unanimous,” he said. “I don’t think everyone understood. The homosexual lifestyle is not an alternative lifestyle. That is not what the Bible tells us. To present that to these kids, I have a real problem with that. A lot of people don’t agree with me, and I understand. If they want to go to the public library that is their choice. But having us buying that and presented to our kids, I have a problem with that.”
One of Mills’ main concerns is exposing kids to material that makes it appear that the homosexual lifestyle is a simple choice or preference.
“There’s a lot of parents and grandparents like me,” he said. “I don’t appreciate that being presented as an alternative or acceptable lifestyle. I think this snuck up on a lot of people.”
According to Petty, there were requests from students for this material, and that is why the librarian, Charlene Plett, requested the purchase. Stout said that Plett was doing her job.
“I think she does an excellent job,” Stout said. “She made the decision to put these books in our library – it is not a curriculum, it is just a library book. I can assure you that, she, the media specialist, was careful to ensure the appropriateness of the level and organization of the material. I know this set of books was reviewed at an appropriate selection aid book list on Oct. 1. The recommended audience for these books is stated in the review as grades eight through 11. Within our policy, it states providing materials on opposing sides of controversial issues so the students may develop, under guidance, a practice of critical reading, thinking and problem solving. That is one of the criteria that has been established. I certainly think that Mrs. Plett gave strong consideration to that when she decided to add these to the library.”
There is a process for residents who do not believe that a book is appropriate to have it removed.
“Proper policy also allows citizens to challenge the contested books,” Petty said. “So the decision is up to the people now on what they’d like to see happen. I know there are some citizens who I have already spoken with who plan to contest the books, and anyone else is free to do so. If this occurs, the issue would come back before the board again for a re-vote.”