Kankakee School Board Questions Weeding of Black History Books | News

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KANKAKEE — The weeding out of books from the school library, including some unused black history books, was a point of contention at the Kankakee school board meeting last week.

Council members said they were notified that a cart of books had been removed from the Steuben Elementary library, which included about seven or eight books relating to black history.

While some books were being removed because they were old and worn, black history books did not appear to have been distributed at all, council members said.

“A lot of the books were old and needed replacing, but when you got to the African American books that were on the cart, 99% of them didn’t even have a crease in the cover, which means they have never even been opened,” said Board Vice Chairman Darrell Williams.

Williams said he visited two schools and asked what was being taught for Black History Month. He was told there were classes on Martin Luther King Jr.

“So you’re only going to teach one person on seven or eight books?” I’m sitting here, it’s about quantity and quality,” he said. “You only have a certain number of books, and they are about important people in my mind.”

Mary Archie, board member and chair of the program committee, said she would ensure that black history books were either put back on the shelves or replaced.

“These kids need to know there’s more to black history than Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,” she said.

Archie also said that care should be taken to ensure the books are donated to other schools, daycares or organizations in the area rather than thrown away.

The books on the cart were meant to be donated, according to the district.

“We don’t throw the books away,” she says. “We don’t throw them away. They are precious. Any race book, don’t throw it away. Contact someone.

Council President Barbara Wells said the council is directing the administration to compile an inventory of books relating to the history of all ethnic groups in all district libraries.

The board is also asking the administration for its next steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again, she said.

“I’m very, extremely troubled by this because every student needs to know the history of every ethnic group in this country,” Wells said. “Our history has been whitewashed, and I use that word, not racially, but [to say] that he was made to look bright and shiny when there are very dark and dangerous aspects to American history.

“And the only way to avoid repeating history is to learn it, to know it, to understand it, and you can’t do that if you aren’t taught it and if the books that teach it to you would learn have been removed from where you can get them at no cost.

Board member Chris Bohlen said he asked the board to consider recruiting a certified librarian/media specialist to fill a vacancy since November 2019. However, the point was not there. ‘agenda.

“What is probably not known is that we don’t have a librarian in this district who would oversee this and be in charge of this process,” he said.

Bohlen noted that a certified librarian would maintain the district library’s book collection as well as weed books appropriately.

Superintendent Genevra Walters said the position has not been posted because the district is still partnering with the University of Illinois at Chicago or Champaign to develop a job description of what the librarian should do.

The librarian would be responsible for the Student Success Center, including overseeing a writing lab, which is more responsibility than the position previously required, she said.

Bohlen said he still thinks the position should be posted as soon as possible and asked that the item be included on the board’s next agenda.

“The thing is, if we wait until March and don’t post it until April, May or June, we may be missing out on the opportunity to hire a very capable, experienced [librarian], a qualified individual to operate a quality library system in our district,” he said. “And the longer we wait – we’ve already gone two years without a librarian.”

Walters said that in response to the situation, the district would increase equity training and request an independent audit of all culturally sensitive books in all school libraries.

She said district procedure for purging the books was followed; however, greater administrative oversight is needed over this process.

“There are several problems. I think the biggest problem is that people wonder why the books are not used? Walters said. “There’s a process in place that gets rid of older books, but you hope the books were used and they haven’t been there for 10 years and nobody uses them.”

Walters said she doesn’t know if any of the books council members were told were thrown out, but situations have happened in the past when books were thrown out because it was easier than find new homes for them.

When the district investigated the situation in Steuben, a cart was found with books meant to be donated, she said.

Walters said purged books should be turned over to other organizations, such as other schools or the juvenile justice system.

“The preference is to give them to others who would like the books,” she said. “That would be my preference, and it’s a system that I’m going to make sure is put in place.”

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