[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at
1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Tuesday, Sept. 22.]
No one is saying that high-school students in a Wisconsin district can't
read Rolling Stone -- but if one
school-board member has his way, teen-agers won't find it or other such
on the racks of their local school libraries.
Opponents -- including local librarians and the American Civil Liberties
Union -- of the plan to transfer authority over what's allowed in
libraries have charged potential censorship; supporters say they're just
trying to give students access to appropriate material.
During a recent meeting of the Kettle Moraine School District in Wale,
Wis., board member Gary Vose offered a plan that would give the local
assistant superintendent of schools the last word on what graces library
shelves. This would strip school librarians of what has, until now, been
their authority to select library materials.
Critics such as Kettle Moraine High School head librarian Mary Finn said
Vose is trying to skirt a procedure for protesting offensive materials
by, instead, banning them outright. She cited as evidence Vose's criticism
year of the Nov. 27, 1997, issue of Rolling Stone, which featured
actors from the late-night comedy show "Saturday Night Live" groping one
another on the cover.
"You can protest any materials in the library," said Finn, who has worked
at Kettle Moraine for eight years. "There is a form that you fill out, and
then a committee would evaluate it. But he didn't do that."
Board spokeswoman and school superintendent Dr. Sarah Jerome did not return
calls about the meeting. Vose could not be reached for comment Tuesday
(Sept. 22), but he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying his
grievance did not concern Rolling Stone in particular.
"It's [about] what kind of material is appropriate for high-school
students," the AP quoted the board member as saying. After viewing
several issues of Rolling Stone, Vose declared some of its content
"pornographic," according to the newswire.
Twenty-eight students and a dozen faculty members attended the meeting to
show their opposition to the plan, according to Kettle Moraine English
teacher Pat Schiele, who also attended the meeting. "A library is a
resource center, and students -- especially students in the '90s walking
into the 21st century -- should be able to find and use as much as is
available to them," Schiele said Tuesday (Sept. 22). "All points of view
presented, which means Rolling Stone should stay on our shelves."
Arguing her point, Finn said librarians are equipped with experience,
training and resources to make decisions about a library's contents that
administration officials do not have.
"It's a lifetime of learning with other libraries and librarians," she
said. "I'm not just buying what I particularly want. I'm buying what's
recommended for high-school libraries."
While stopping short of threatening a lawsuit if the proposal passes, the
local branch of the ACLU did call Vose's plan "a pretext for censorship."
"It looks as if this proposal for new policies is just an excuse that will
allow the censorship of Rolling Stone and perhaps other materials
that might come along that school-board member Vose doesn't like," said
Chris Ahmuty, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.
The proposal was referred to the curriculum committee during Monday's
meeting. The board will take up the issue again Oct. 12.
While Finn fears that the plan already has enough support to pass, Ahmuty
stressed a willingness to work with the school board to maintain the
district's current policies.
"We want to work with the district first of all to help them sort this out
and do the right thing," Ahmuty said. "They have good policies in place
already, and their professional staff has been adhering to those policies
... Their system isn't broke, so why try to fix it."