PENNCREST vote on library books delayed due to board member's racial concerns

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May 12—CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — A vote to purchase new library books at some PENNCREST schools has been delayed due to one board member's concerns over the topic of racism being included in some of the books.

During PENNCREST School Board's work session on Monday, David Valesky voiced concerns over the latest school resource list, which includes library books, visits by outside groups for presentations in the district and other similar matters — and which is expected to be voted on at the board's meeting tonight. Valesky specifically pointed to several library books on the list, which he viewed as being overly focused on the subject of racism.

"I don't have an issue if we're giving books that's targeting education of the Civil War and slavery and there is racism even today, but this is obviously like shoving it down every corner," he said.

Valesky said there were four books on the list that "openly promote the hate group Black Lives Matter."

"That's a group that is for destroying," he said. "They aren't protecting Black lives."

Valesky said the resource list needed to be "well-founded" and said the current version was "definitely far from it."

"I have a problem with this until it's gone through," he said. "If we're giving books that are for kids to learn, why aren't we giving them books about American patriots that fought slavery? Why are they missing that?"

Board members Jeff Brooks and Tim Brown both asked Valesky to send them the list of books he took offense with. Brown said he had skimmed through the list and "did not see the BLM stuff," using an abbreviation for Black Lives Matter.

The Meadville Tribune also asked for and received a list from Valesky.

In the email, Valesky identified the books "Global Citizenship: Engage in Politics of a Changing World" and "Nevertheless We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage" as promoting Black Lives Matter. Valesky said the former book says Black Lives Matter "aims to reduce violence" and the latter includes a section written by Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors.

Other books on the list pertaining to racism that Valesky did not approve of include "Finding Junie Kim," "Genesis Begins Again," "Apple Skin to the Core," "Downstairs Girl" and "Fat Chance."

"There are many more books in the list that are involving racism, but from what I can tell they come from a historical point of view, unlike the following," Valesky wrote in the email.

Valesky also cited two other books he opposed on different grounds, and seemed to imply in his email that he was not a fan of most of the list.

"Almost all the books on the list embrace immorality in some way, however these are obvious one (sic) without needing to read a bunch," he wrote in the email.

The two other books were "Read Between The Lines" by Jo Knowles about a student who suffers a broken middle finger, and "A Shot at Normal" by Marisa Reichardt. Valesky said the former book involves the student taking advantage of their injury to "flip off" teachers and their father, while the latter regards a child who "sues parents over not being vaccinated for measles."

Board President Luigi DeFrancesco, at the meeting, said the whole list did not need to be approved, and suggested having a non-board member check on the books included to make sure they meet all school district policies.

Superintendent Timothy Glasspool suggested holding off on the library book section of the resource list until June to give the board members time to review it. He also said that instead of having the board vote on various resource lists throughout the year, he could in the future have all schools submit their requested library books to be approved at a set month, with the board receiving 60 days notice to give time for review.

Glasspool said he would also get information on who and how books are recommended, such as whether they are based off of what books students are checking out or based on input from library organizations.

Glasspool said he would have a final resource list for library books at the board's next work session on June 20.

The agenda for the board's voting meeting taking place today at 7 p.m. includes an abridged resource list compared to the one at Monday's work session. It contains only 10 entries, consisting of seven books that have been donated to the school district and three events or presentations. All 10 of those entries are for Maplewood Elementary School.

The resource list at Monday's meeting was not across all school districts. The library book purchases were only for Maplewood High School and Saegertown Elementary School, with the overwhelming majority of those entries being for the former school.

Tonight's meeting of PENNCREST School Board will take place at Cambridge Springs Junior-Senior High School.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at (814) 724-6370 or by email at .