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  • Writer's pictureDavid M. Rubin


Nine months into her controversial tenure as Superintendent of Education, Ellen Weaver appeared as a guest on the TV program "This Week in South Carolina."  She told host Gavin Jackson, in her most sincere and reassuring manner, that "everything we do [in the schools] rests on the foundation of reading." 


She claimed she didn't want to "micromanage schools from the state level," and  she wanted to "empower local leadership," because "nobody knows better than local teachers, principals, and parents."


Nice sentiments, but Weaver was not telling the truth about her intentions.


South Carolina's public schools are about to enter a very contentious period in which Weaver will attempt to cement at the state level total control of school libraries and all the educational materials in the classroom.


Her Republican allies in the State Legislature permitted this on June 25. They allowed a regulation the State Board of Education promulgated last year, titled "Uniform Procedure for Selection or Reconsideration of Instructional Materials," to become law.  Well aware of what a hot button issue this is, the cowardly Republicans refused to debate her measure or vote on it.  They stood aside and let it become law.


The regulation attempts to define what books and materials will not be acceptable for classroom use in this state (which already ranks near the bottom nationally in the quality of public education). 


In the second line of this regulation, Weaver claims to be offering a "two prong threshold test" to determine which teaching materials meet the State Board's standards.  This is fancy legal language to mislead readers into believing Weaver has established a precise standard to sort the good materials from the bad.


Not so. This "two prong test" is so broad that the State Board can now ban just about anything.


Prong one requires that the material be "age and developmentally appropriate based on age and grade level."  By her definition, material cannot be age and developmentally appropriate if it includes depictions of "sexual conduct."  (The Bible, of course, is exempt.)


Prong two is that the books and other educational materials "are aligned with and supportive of the Instructional Program of the school and district."


Both prongs are, obviously, wholly subjective.  They are of no value to good-faith school librarians and teachers who are trying to figure out what is now permitted in their schools.


What Weaver's regulation does do, however, is deputize zealous parents (such as the Moms for Liberty crowd) to act as the thought police for school libraries. 


Any parent or guardian with a student in the district can file up to five challenges a month to books and videos in use in the school.  Assume just a dozen such parents exist in each of South Carolina's 42 counties, and that they all file their five complaints a month.  Do the math.  That produces, statewide, more than 30,000 challenges a year! 


Each school district must have in place a system for adjudicating this mountain of challenges.  If the complaining parents don't get their way, they can appeal to the State Board.  The Board can overrule the local school board and require that the disputed materials be removed.


Further, if a book is ordered removed from, say, Sand Hill Elementary School in DD2, it will have to be removed from ALL public school libraries in the entire state.  This means the most censorious parents in such politically red counties as Greenville and York can dictate to school districts in Dorchester and Charleston what is appropriate for their children.


So much for Weaver's wet kiss to local control.  But it gets worse.


The State need not wait for parental complaints to work their way through the system.  The State Board on its own initiative can ban educational materials without any parental complaint.


The State Board has tried to bullet proof this policy against legal attack by stating that materials will not be removed by local or state administrators because they disagree with or oppose "the viewpoints" expressed in those materials. 


This is nonsense.  Weaver knows full well that it is precisely the "viewpoints" in these books--on gender, race, sex, politics, history, religion--that cause controversy. 

Her real hope in singling out viewpoint discrimination is to head off the sorts of legal challenges that arose in the famous SCOTUS decision Island Trees School District v. Pico (1982).  That case--in which students themselves were the plaintiffs against their own school board--suggests one line of attack on Weaver's policy that should prove successful. 


Weaver's regulation is so flawed that it will not be workable.  In addition to Pico, which we will explore in the next post, there are other avenues of attack open to parents, teachers, school boards and political candidates who refuse to kiss Superintendent Weaver's ring.

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