Hermon School Library Books
Written June 8, 2023 by Brian Veneziano
For the past two years, the town of Hermon has been slowly tearing itself apart over issues concerning the school department. One of the most contentious issues has been centered on explicit books in the Hermon High School library.
In April 2022, a book within the Hermon High School library was challenged by a parent for containing sexually explicit content. The book challenge was denied by a review committee and the subsequent appeal was denied by the School Committee – sparking a ten month controversy that has caused a clear divide in the community. The Hermon High School Principal, Brian Walsh, contacted Hermon parents to seek their input and offered a solution to adult-themed material in the high school library. During a policy meeting in August of 2022, Mr. Walsh proposed an opt-in protocol that would empower parents to opt-in to material that was considered to have an adult theme. This appeared to be a simple solution to the growing debate. The Policy Committee chair did not accept the recommendation and when the updated policy was presented at a School Committee meeting it did not include the suggestion by Mr. Walsh.
Over the next eight months the debate and divide over library material grew bigger and more divisive, spilling over to town council meetings and being the topic of public comment at almost every school committee meeting. The School Committee and Superintendent refused to take any action to address the issue. The conflict climaxed in April of 2023 when parents read excerpts of books from the Hermon High School library that contained explicit content at a school committee meeting and town council meeting – resulting in outrage by several community members.
Finally, Mr. Walsh took things into his own hands. Recognizing the distress the issue over books was causing in his school and our community, Mr. Walsh wrote a high school protocol that addresses adult-themed material in the high school library. During the June 2023 School Committee meeting, Mr. Walsh presented to the school committee the very opt-in plan he recommended to the policy committee eight months earlier – this time he did not seek approval – he stated that this was going to be the protocol in the high school for the 2023-24 school year. The protocol includes all the components that parents have been looking for: It identifies adult-themed material in the library, it segregates explicit material from the general student body, and requires parental approval for students to access adult themed material. This protocol empowers parents to use their discretion in allowing their child to view adult-themed content. With parental approval, students can access all material in the library. It does not ban any books.
In less than five minutes, Mr. Walsh de-escalated a contentious issue that had been dividing friends and neighbors as well as parents and teachers for over a year. Mr. Walsh has taken a leadership role that the superintendent and school committee has failed to do. This seemingly simple step has built a pathway for the community to heal. As with any new protocol, process, or policy this will have some issues when it is implemented in the coming school year. We need to remain supportive as we work through any issues, improve the process, and ensure the success of our school and students. I am very hopeful that the school committee will update its Instructional and Library Materials Selection policy and follow the lead from Mr. Walsh by including this protocol.