PENNCREST considers revisions to library, athletic policies
Dec. 14—HAYFIELD TOWNSHIP — PENNCREST School Board last week discussed a series of proposed policy changes that would ban library books featuring "sexualized content" and would base athletic participation upon a student's biological sex as determined at birth.
The proposed changes, recommended by the board's policy committee, drew blistering attacks and passionate defenses from members of the public and extended discussion from board members in a meeting that stretched more than two hours. Much of the furor focused on the proposal to change the library materials policy, which was updated with unanimous board approval less than five months ago.
Board member David Valesky, who chairs the policy committee, said that the committee constantly reviews and revises district policies as necessary and argued that the proposed changes to the library materials policy were necessary. In remarks at the meeting's conclusion, he raised several printed pages and looked to the audience.
"I have a list of books here in my hand, if anyone would like to look at them, of books that are in our libraries that promote this garbage and absolute trash to students," he said before wishing everyone a merry Christmas.
Valesky emailed The Tribune a copy of the 11-book list he had displayed in the meeting, but noted that it was meant just as an example. "Tthere are over 30 similar books per library," he added.
The list included Sara Gruen's "Water for Elephants," the basis for a 2011 Reece Witherspoon film; "Looking for Alaska," a frequently challenged book by bestselling author John Green; and "Angus, Thong, and Full-Frontal Snogging" by Louise Rennison. Also on the list was "Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out," one of the books featured in a 2021 Maplewood Junior-Senior High book display that drew conservative furor. Among the responses was a social media post from Valesky, who wrote, "Besides the point of being totally evil, this is not what we need to be teaching kids."
The library materials and athletics policies were among 10 revisions on the meeting agenda for first reading. Other proposed revisions affect the district's policies on enrolling homeless students; student activity funds; and student fundraising.
Board President Luigi DeFrancesco emphasized that the purpose of the first reading was to ensure that both board members and the public have a chance to read the proposals and submit comments before the board votes.
"And based on the comments, then the board can decide to approve or disapprove the following policies," DeFrancesco said. "Please read the proposed policies and submit your comments."
The board next meets for a work session Jan. 9 and a voting meeting Jan. 12, when the proposed policy changes will likely be on the agenda. Comments can be submitted to the board's secretary at email@example.com.
The revised library materials policy adds more than 200 words to the existing policy, with most of the addition devoted to explaining the reasons for the ban on "sexualized materials" and describing what won't be allowed.
"Parents/Guardians have a wide range of options outside of the district library system to introduce their child to sexualized content they deem appropriate for their child's age," the proposed addition states. "As such, the District will prioritize inclusion of quality materials suitable for educational goals and worthwhile for the limited amount of time available to students that do not contain sexualized content."
If approved, the policy would prohibit "visual or visually implied depictions of sexual acts," "explicit written depictions of sexual acts" and "visual depictions of nudity" with an exception for anatomical diagrams and classical works of art.
Board member Jeff Brooks, pointing out that revisions to the library materials policy were approved by the board in July, asked, "What happened in the last four months that we need to revise it and why didn't we get it right the first time?"
Valesky said the intent was to give better direction to district administrators who implement the policy.
Following the book display controversy last year, the district created a form for challenging or requesting a review of library materials. Superintendent Tim Glasspool said Tuesday that no reviews have been requested.
The proposed revision to the district's policy on interscholastic athletics adds three words: "biological (at birth)."
"It shall be the policy of the Board," the revised policy states, "to offer opportunities for participation in interscholastic athletic programs to biological (at birth) male and female students on as equal a basis as is practicable and without discrimination, in accordance with law and regulations."
Glasspool said he doesn't know how many, if any, transgender athletes play for district teams.
"No coach, athletic director, or principal has ever notified me of the gender of any student-athlete," he wrote in an email.
Asked if he anticipated the district adding significant numbers of trans athletes, Glasspool added, "I gave up predicting the future years ago."
Mike Crowley can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.