WATERLOO REGION – Public school trustees voted down a motion Monday night to ensure books about sexuality in school libraries are appropriate for elementary students.
Waterloo Region District School Board trustee Cindy Watson introduced the motion at Monday night’s meeting. But some trustees worried that such a review could potentially harm marginalized students as well as curb the curiosity of students and their desire to explore new information in the library.
Watson asked for a report to the board about the age discrepancy between the Ministry of Education curriculum guidelines on human development and sexual health, and resources available in school libraries for kindergarten to Grade 6 students.
“Parents and community members are concerned that the provincial curriculum guidelines may not apply in school libraries and would like more information and reassurance that sexual health curriculum guidelines also apply in school libraries,” said Watson, who said she received multiple calls and emails about this issue.
“I’m hoping that trustees can support this motion to help bring understanding and provide clarity for parents and community members that have concerns.”
Trustee Karen Meissner did not support the motion for three reasons, starting with the use of the phrase “age appropriateness.”
“It’s often used to question the identity of two-spirit or LGBTQ + people,” Meissner said. This is actually a phase used to undermine the humanity of those folks. ”
Libraries are spaces where students explore a variety of topics, she said. “Libraries are about instilling a love of learning, instilling a love of books.”
And Meissner, along with other trustees, said she’s confident in library staff, who are well trained and experts at curating library collections. Several trustees stressed there’s already process in place for parents to raise concerns about library books with their school principal.
Trustee Jayne Herring said she has not heard any concerns about library books being age-appropriate. “I have never received, in four years, one single complaint that even resembles this. Not one. ”
Trustee Mike Ramsay, who supported the motion, said the board has a duty to all students and families, including those who contacted Watson with concerns about how school libraries are run.
“What I’m hearing from some of my colleagues is that those concerns are not valid,” Ramsay said. “Regardless of how we feel, we have to look at that shared public duty to all of our students.”
Trustee Joanne Weston, like Meissner, questioned the motivations behind asking whether library collections were appropriate for younger students.
“It made me wonder: is it books about all relationships or just queer relationships that are a concern? Is it about all children understanding their bodies and feelings or just 2SLGBTQ children understanding their bodies and feelings that’s a concern? ” Weston said. “I’m really concerned that this motion is about that. I hope I’m wrong. ”
Watson responded to those concerns, saying “I want to assure trustees this has nothing to do with any particular group or any particular child,” she said. “I can say that with all sincerity.”
Three trustees – Watson, Ramsay and Crystal Whetham – voted in favor; six voted against (Jayne Herring, Meissner, Scott Piatkowski, Laurie Tremble, Weston and Kathleen Woodcock) and Kathi Smith abstained.