Blount school board hears criticism of books, director – Maryville Daily Times

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Eagleton Elementary School librarian Rebecca Dickenson explains the process used by Blount County Schools librarians to select books and responds to objections. BCS Director Rob Britt asked Dickenson to provide the information in response to concerns raised by Beth Tucker (left) during the school board meeting Thursday.
Beth Tucker expresses her concerns about books at school libraries that she believes are inappropriate for young students during Thursday night’s Blount County Board of Education meeting. “I’m really protective about my daughter and what she’s exposed to,” Tucker said. “I think our children need to maintain their innocence for as long as we can possibly allow that to happen.”
Blount County Schools Director Rob Britt listens to remarks during the school board meeting Thursday, Nov. 4.
Blount County Board of Education members Debbie Sudhoff (from left), Fred Goins, Diane Bain and Director Rob Britt listen to updates from high school students at the Nov. 4 board meeting.

Education Reporter
Eagleton Elementary School librarian Rebecca Dickenson explains the process used by Blount County Schools librarians to select books and responds to objections. BCS Director Rob Britt asked Dickenson to provide the information in response to concerns raised by Beth Tucker (left) during the school board meeting Thursday.
Beth Tucker expresses her concerns about books at school libraries that she believes are inappropriate for young students during Thursday night’s Blount County Board of Education meeting. “I’m really protective about my daughter and what she’s exposed to,” Tucker said. “I think our children need to maintain their innocence for as long as we can possibly allow that to happen.”
Blount County Schools Director Rob Britt listens to remarks during the school board meeting Thursday, Nov. 4.
Blount County Board of Education members Debbie Sudhoff (from left), Fred Goins, Diane Bain and Director Rob Britt listen to updates from high school students at the Nov. 4 board meeting.
Before the Blount County Board of Education approved buying new library books and the director’s evaluation Thursday, Nov. 4, it heard from community members objecting to books already on the shelves and leadership of the district.
During the public comment period Beth Tucker said the book “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is “pretty disgusting” and “has no place in our schools.”
“It goes into sexual acts that are far more mature than what our children need to be exposed to,” she said.
Tucker also objected to a book she said is in two Blount County elementary schools, “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag.”
Referring to Milk’s support of cult leader Jim Jones and calling Milk a pedophile, she said, “I don’t think we need a book that goes into detail about Harvey Milk.”
“We need to eliminate these things out of our schools,” she said, calling for a policy involving community members or teachers in the selection of school library books.
When school board Chairman Robbie Kirkland asked about the current book selection process, Director Rob Britt called on Rebecca Dickenson, who is the librarian at Eagleton Elementary School but attends board meetings to represent the Blount County Education Association.
Dickenson said the school librarians go through reviews and recommendations from sources such as “School Library Journal” when deciding what to purchase.
In addition to a school board policy for removing a book, Dickenson noted that library books are not assigned to a class and when parents have objected she has offered to try to make sure their own child did not check out a book.
“But libraries are meant to have a breadth of lots of different things,” she said.
Carpenters Middle School recently removed “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” by Jesse Andrews after it was challenged. Barnes and Noble lists the age range for the 2012 New York Times bestseller as 14-17.
“Blount County Schools followed policy 4.403 (Reconsideration of Instructional Materials and Textbooks) developing a review committee to evaluate the challenged material and make recommendations to the school principal,” Amanda Vance, supervisor of elementary instruction and district communications said in an email response to The Daily Times after the meeting.
“CMS took swift action once the concern was placed to evaluate the book following Blount County Board of Education policy and to make a student centered decision,” she said.
Tucker said after the meeting that parents planned to object to the same book at Eagleton College and Career Academy.
Vance said the district is checking whether the books is available at any other middle school library and will remove it.
ECCA previously was a middle school but now includes ninth grade and is expected to eventually include grades 6-12.
Vance wrote, “If there is a specific concern about a book in our school libraries, families are encouraged to reach out to school administrators so they can follow policy 4.403 to review the material with a committee and make student centered decisions.”
Under the policy the principal appoints a committee including certified library personnel, classroom teachers and one or more parents. The committee also may include one or more students.
At the meeting the board approved an agenda item for purchasing elementary library books, but no details were included with that motion.
The only other item on the night’s agenda was Britt’s evaluation, which the board approved, giving him an overall rating of 4.27 on a 5-point scale. In written comments submitted with the evaluation and during the meeting board members complimented his leadership during the pandemic.
Board members gave him the highest rating in Educational Leadership, an average of 4.55. The lowest marks, 4.1 each, were in Community Relationships and Staff and Personnel Relationships.
In a written comment with the evaluation board member Vandy Kemp said she is disappointed in the district’s communications outreach to the public, employees and stakeholders.
Kirkland gave Britt all 5s on the 30 items in the evaluation and said during the meeting he has worked with four superintendents and “It has been a pleasure to serve with Rob Britt.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Shirley Rupert said in online poll 50% rated Britt’s performance below expectations and 32% significantly below expectations.
Rupert referred to Britt’s raise in 2019 to $140,492, which brought his salary up to the average in East Tennessee. “Unfortunately Blount County falls way below average,” she said, referring to proficiency numbers but not specifying the measure.
The 2019 raise did not bring Britt up to the state or local average. At that time the average base pay for directors was $150,908, according to the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.
After the meeting Rupert said she had shared the poll in groups such as Blount County Moms for Education, East Tennessee Republicans and Blount County Speaks Out, receiving about 200 responses.
Education Reporter
Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.
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