Too scary for second graders
New London restricts juvenile horror books at elementary schools
By Scott Bellile
Two children’s books became harder for New London’s youngest students to borrow from elementary school libraries.
The New London School Board on Monday, Feb. 13, voted 4-3 to limit the checkout of two horror titles to third- and fourth-grade students.
Second graders and below now must obtain permission from a parent or guardian to check out “Scary States of Mind: Horror in Maryland” by Rachel Rose and “Tiptoe into Scary Places: Deserted Prisons” by Joyce Markovics.
The board did not run the policy past the district’s lawyer prior to its passage.
“It’s not our legal responsibility to make every book in the world available in the library,” said Board President Chris Martinson, who backed the restriction.
After the vote, he told the board legal counsel can still review the policy.
District Administrator Scott Bleck responded it is too late once a policy is enacted.
“So if legal tells us we broke the law, guess what. We’ll be sued,” said board member Terry Wegner, who joined Mark Grossman and Mandy Wilz in voting against the policy.
“If we’re going to prevent children from seeing something, it is in fact censorship,” Wegner said. “We should have had an attorney’s review of this before we made that decision.”
Voting with Martinson were John Heideman, Katie Batten and Holly Schweitzer.
Parent requests banning both books
The action followed a complaint filed in November by Hailey Oehlke, a parent whose second-grade children checked out both books from Readfield Elementary School. She requested the books be banned altogether.
Oehlke’s complaint against “Horror in Maryland” cites two references to suicide and a mention of a sailor being “blown to bits” by a cannon.
Her opposition to “Deserted Prisons” stems from a photograph of the dead bodies of gangsters killed in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929.
“I feel grade school is a bit young to allow books with such graphic pictures and words to be viewed by all ages,” she wrote.
An ad-hoc Material Reviews Committee comprised of four district employees and a parent reviewed her complaint in November.
The committee recommended the horror books stay in the library due to the genre’s popularity among “reluctant readers” as well as the fact parents may ask librarians to bar their child’s access to certain titles or genres.
Following the committee’s recommendation, Oehlke in December filed the appeal that appeared this week before the school board.
“Horror in Maryland” is available at Parkview, Readfield and Sugar Bush elementary schools.
Parkview, Readfield and Lincoln schools offer “Deserted Prisons.”
Outside the schools, “Deserted Prisons” is available at Waupaca and Outagamie counties’ public libraries through interlibrary loan. “Horror in Maryland” is not.
Neither book is taught in classrooms.
The restriction is not the district’s first. New London Intermediate/Middle School forbids the checkout of young adult literature until seventh grade unless a student provides permission from a parent.
Promotional materials for “Horror in Maryland” and “Deserted Prisons” supplied to the school board rate the books at around a third-grade reading level.
“If the recommendation is grades three and up, why are we [lending] it to under grade three?” Wilz asked.
“All the books at the elementary are, say if you will, open to all students in the elementary,” Bleck said.
Librarians sometimes suggest more age-appropriate books for the “littlest learners” but up until now did not deny them materials, Bleck said.
Batten argued the schools are not censoring the horror books if they still grant younger students access with parental permission.
Wegner disagreed, adding such limitations put the burden on all readers.
“We’re now saying no, nobody can read this unless they opt in, and that’s not how [our system] has been developed,” he said.