Editor’s note: This article has been modified from its original version. The changes have been tracked and explained with a second editor’s note at the end of the article.

Perkiomen Valley is the latest school board to come under fire regarding their proposed textbook and library book policy. Broad + Liberty broke the story about the apparent bias in reporting around the Central Bucks School District book policy last month. Now, Perkiomen Valley and board President Jason Saylor are getting similar treatment by the Pottstown Mercury and the Inquirer.

The Mercury has published four articles about the proposed policy over the last three weeks. Headlines include: 

  • “Perk Valley students stage walk out amid book policy fight” (April 4)
  • “Perk Valley School Board president has filed most book challenges in district” (April 1)
  • “Perk Valley crowd speaks out on both sides of book limit policy” (March 15)
  • “Attempt to fast-track book restrictions in Perkiomen Valley schools fails in 4-4 vote” (March 10)

Reporter Evan Brandt authored all four articles for the Mercury, which contain these quotes that skew against the proposed policy and are not completely accurate.

“The information comes in the context of an ongoing debate on the school board over a proposed policy, which mirrors one adopted by the Central Bucks School District with some controversy, that would make it easier to get books removed from school libraries.” (emphasis added) The proposed policy does not contain any language to remove or ban books from the library.

“This issue first arose at the March 6 school board meeting at which School Board President Jason Saylor attempted to fast-track a new policy making it easier to challenge books available to students in the district.” The proposed policy does not include the word “challenge” nor does it make it easier to review books.

“Perhaps the crowd decided to attend after receiving a March 10 email from Trappe Republican Committee Chairman Jack Minster and shared with MediaNews Group, which contained a link to the March 10 article in The Mercury.” This statement is purely Brandt’s opinion and the fact that he highlights the political affiliation of the person is inflammatory.

In an exclusive interview with Broad + Liberty, Saylor described the lack of understanding about the proposed policy. “The current policy that is in place and was adopted one year ago allows for books to be removed from the libraries. The new proposed policy does not allow for books to be removed or banned.”

Saylor said that the current policy allows for a “review” process where any resident can request that a book is “reviewed” by the administration team at the building where the book is located. Despite the fact that the process is called a “review” and not a “challenge,” some media outlets continue to use the inflammatory word “challenge.” 

Under the proposed policy, the most negative thing that happens is a book is marked as explicit content and parents and the board are notified.  With a few exceptions, the proposed policy prohibits the purchase of new materials with explicit content but does not remove any existing books in the library. Currently, the policy allows for books to be reviewed and removed by the administrators.

At the request of parents who do not want to publicly request the “review,” Saylor asked for reviews of six books. The principal at each relevant school convened a team to review the book and make a decision as to whether it should remain in the building. Surveys and Haters were pulled from the high school library and Black Flamingo was removed from the middle school library as a result of the review process due to strong sexual content. However, Flamer and Fun Home were kept in the library due to their “diverse” content. Neither Saylor nor any other board member was involved in the decision-making process about whether a book was removed or kept. (See one picture from Fun Home here. Please be advised the image depicts a sexual act. )

Saylor wants to stop the practice of pulling any books from the library. Under the proposed policy, no book would be pulled. “I don’t think we should pull any books from the library.”

The proposed policy defines sexual acts and sexualized content and calls for transparency for parents and guardians to know exactly what content is being taught and what books are in the library. While the proposed policy seeks to prioritize materials that do not contain sexualized content, it requires the superintendent to notify the board that explicit content is contained in materials and what other alternatives were considered.

When asked if classics would come under fire under this new policy, Saylor was very clear. “Absolutely not.” Shakespeare, the Diary of Anne Frank, and the statue of David would not be disputed under this proposed policy.

Saylor’s commitment is to transparency and the idea that parents should know what materials are being taught to their children and should have the opportunity to opt-out. “It is imperative that the parents of our children are made aware of books in the library that they may have concerns about.” For example, The Hate U Give, (excerpts below) is currently in a middle school library and includes profane language and sexual content. “If a parent does not want their eleven-year old accessing that book, they should have the right to opt-out.” 

Similarly, under the current policy, the book Fun Home was kept in the library after a review; however, there is not currently a process in place to inform parents about the content in these books allowing them to opt their children out.

The proposed policy would keep every book in the library and would allow parents to opt out of certain materials. The nine-page proposed policy contains this language: “Parental consent must be obtained for high school students before using any textbooks or supplementary resource materials containing explicit written descriptions of sexual acts or visual depictions of nudity.”

“In selecting library materials for high school students, the selectors shall seek to prioritize the selection of materials which do not contain other sexualized content, such as explicit descriptions of sexual acts or visual depictions of nudity.”

“Parents/Guardians may contact the campus librarian directly and/or complete an online form for library book or content opt-out decisions.”

There is not a single mention of removing books or banning books in the proposed policy, despite the headlines from the local media. Three hundred students walked out with signs, and one student compared the proposed policy to Nazi Germany.

When asked for a response about the student walk-out, Saylor made this statement. “Seeing the pictures of the walkout today makes me proud to be part of Perkiomen Valley. Seeing students who will be future leaders exercise their First Amendment right is part of the fabric of our republic.”

Editor’s Note:

We at Broad + Liberty are committed to best practices in journalism. As such, we failed in our duty to reach out to reporter Evan Brandt, for comments on this article since he was specifically mentioned. When Brandt raised questions about our reporting, we realized our error and contacted him to apologize and request comment. As a result, we are providing this update to the article. Additionally, as a result of Brandt’s comments, we have removed the statement suggesting that the student walk-outs may have been related to the recent reporting.

In response to a new request for comment, Brandt defended his characterizations with this statement: “If Mr. Saylor’s proposed policy is intended to remove that procedure, that has not been made clear publicly. While the current procedure for challenging books has been the subject of much public discussion, I have not heard Mr. Saylor or any other official say publicly that the intent of the proposal is to remove the existing challenge procedure, thus leading to the conclusion that it will remain. Obviously, neither I nor the public is privy to any conversations you have had with Mr. Saylor personally for the purpose of your article, but if he has said this publicly, I must have missed it. Other coverage obligations prevent me from attending every Perkiomen School Board and committee meeting.”

Brandt correctly pointed out that the Central Bucks policy and the Perkiomen Valley proposed policy are nearly identical with one notable exception. That exception to the author of this article is significant in that it removed the “challenge process” from policy. Perkiomen Valley currently has a “Re-evaluation of Resource Materials” administrative regulation that does make reference to a “challenge,” but the school board has no involvement in the creation of administrative regulations. The board only approves policies that then must be implemented by the school board.

School board policies are often identical across the state as the Pennsylvania School Boards Association provides boards with actual policies on all topics, and many boards adopt them verbatim. The fact that Perkiomen Valley used the Central Bucks policy as a template with a significant modification to develop a policy to best fit their community is consistent with current practices across the state.

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. 

12 thoughts on “Beth Ann Rosica: Perkiomen Valley School Board President sets the record straight on book policy”

  1. It’s a shame the author of this article chose not to seek comment from the reporter she is criticizing for comment.

    Please explain how this sentence — “The local media hype may have been responsible for the student protest held yesterday at the high school.” — is different from this one of mine you criticized: “Perhaps the crowd decided to attend after receiving a March 10 email from Trappe Republican Committee Chairman Jack Minster and shared with MediaNews Group, which contained a link to the March 10 article in The Mercury.” This statement is purely Brandt’s opinion and the fact that he highlights the political affiliation of the person is inflammatory.

    Oddly enough, the following was part of an email I received from Mr. Saylor: “I appreciate you reaching out and asking the questions and I appreciate how you have written the articles.”

    So he seems OK with my reporting …
    — Evan Brandt, The Mercury.

    1. Evan, your reporting is biased. You cannot see it and neither can your supporters. Your article was an inflammatory article meant to smear the name of Jason Saylor and give readers the impression that the board is “banning books.” Everyone’s panties are in a bunch over whether or not students should have access to sexually explicit material in a public school. You want to give it to your kids? Great. Have at it. While you’re at it, why not give them vape, and cigarettes, and booze. You want to ruin your children? Great. Have at it. But leave everyone else’s kids out of it. Pervert!

  2. As far as I’m concerned, both of these “articles” are opinion pieces. I had already watched the meeting online before coming across either of these “editorials”. If the point was truly about why students supported the protest, Brandt should have investigated by speaking to actual students that attended. This leads me to believe it was not about the student walk out at all. Those remarks should not have been included in his recap if he wanted this to be a factual portrayal of events, and not included to sway public opinion.

    Frankly, as a reader, I don’t care what Jason Saylor or anyone else on the board thinks about the press coverage received, but am highly interested in reading factual, non-biased accounts of local events and coming to my own conclusion. I am disappointed many times when reading a reporter’s account of an event only to discover they have incorporated their personal opinions and biases; through the adjectives they use, the statements they make outright, the inclusion of one-sided conjecture or tying non-partisan community issues to politics.

    1. Kim Knoll,

      Do these five student quotes, in addition to comments from the speaker organizer, also a student, not count as “speaking to the students who attended?”

      “Censorship is the first step toward tyranny,” said senior Riya Shringari.

      Sophomore Julianna Buddy told MediaNews Group one of the first things Nazis did when they came to power in Germany was to start banning books. “And this is really kind of stupid when you think about it because it’s much easier to find books online than in the library.”

      “This is what students are standing up against. This what we can do when we stand together,” said junior Bella Day.

      Raelyn Campli, daughter of school board member Tammy Campli, said her mother has been reading the books some want removed and has found many of them “are about gay people and their experiences or about race.”

      “Banning any books is wrong unless they are books spreading some kind of hate,” said sophomore Jordan Boyd.

      In case you missed it, here is the link: https://www.pottsmerc.com/2023/04/03/photos-and-video-perk-valley-students-stage-walkout-amid-book-policy-fight/

  3. Beth wants to decide for you what’s appropriate for your kids to read and learn in school. What happened to my parental rights? Also around half of all teens are sexually active, and I bet most of them didn’t read Fun Home.
    Where do we draw the line on what is explicit enough to merit parent opt-in and what’s not? Who decides? I’ve been in schools where parents won’t return a phone call, won’t respond to an email, won’t come in for a conference, and now they’re going to say yay or nay to every library book?
    The Hate U Give is flawed and isn’t my favorite book (I’ve read it, start to finish – bet Beth hasn’t); ditto Fun Home. That being said, Hate spent 80s week on the NYT bestseller’s list, won the Printz Award, won the Kirkus Prize, was longlisted for the National Book Award and was made into a film. Give it a few years – it will undoubtedly be considered one of those classic Saylor says won’t be challenged. Same goes for Fun Home.
    Maybe we should try to work on problems facing our youth that aren’t, I don’t know, works of fiction?

    1. Also, Jordan Boyd has more sense in his pinkie finger that most of the adults involved in these ban attempts. Leave them kids alone!

  4. Also, Jordan Boyd has more sense in his pinkie finger that most of the adults involved in these ban attempts. Leave them kids alone!

  5. Thank you for reporting the facts. Many reporters have lost the ability to investigate and report truth. This should be a non partisan issue that everyone can agree on but the liberal spin has turned it into something it’s not.

  6. The proposed policy actually stops the current practice of removing books from the library. It would however allow for proper review, to determine what books contain sexually explicit or graphic material…it provides transparency for parents to opt to prevent their children from having access.
    Regardless of my child’s preferences…gay, straight or otherwise… I sure wouldn’t want them to have access to the questionable content currently available. While I am only a resident and taxpayer, I am pleased to see the school board president counter today’s over-sexualized culture, of which our future leaders of this community are presented with in our public school. It’s refreshing to finally see someone take a stand in support of healthy, age-appropriate resources.

  7. Sounds to me like the proposed policy is to allow for review of books that contain sexually explicit language and graphics. I personally wouldn’t want my child…gay, straight, or otherwise…to have access to that type of material. The types of situations presented in these books are complicated, intimate and quite disturbing. They don’t lend themselves to anything academic. Completely unnecessary in a school setting.
    In this interview, the school board president does not at all suggest removing any existing books. Instead, he is proposing a review.
    As a resident and tax payer, I am pleased to see this type of stance by our elected representatives. More folks need to follow Mr. Saylor’s lead, and stand against the current, over-sexualized culture that is bombarding the children.

  8. This article by Ms. Rosica is quite eye opening for me. I’ve been reading the stories and also posts on Facebook and up until now, I was concerned over a proposal to ban and censor books in the school library. I lobbied my own party (Dem) a few years ago against banning books on Amazon and Dr. Seuss, because we shouldn’t be going backwards in that regard.

    I saw a post on a Facebook page showing one of the books in question and I wouldn’t want my child to stumble on that book but more importantly I wouldn’t want a boy to be reading that book with that page open next to my daughter in school. That would be a real problem. At the same time, I don’t think the book itself should be banned.

    Having read this article, it’s now becoming lucid that the proposal is to put transparency and process in place so that parents are aware of the materials available to their children and can opt out if desired. Frankly I stumble to understand why anyone, democrat or republican, would have an issue with that proposal? I also am struggling to understand what exactly the students walked out from the high school last week over and who fed them with information that seems to be counter to what the proposal actually aims to do.

    I am pleased to see Ms. Rosica gave Mr. Brandt an opportunity to clarify the record and agree with him that he should have been interviewed before this article was published (we need all journalists to do that), however, it does seem this is the first article that clarifies the intent. It seems that opponents are misleading the public and students that this is book banning and censorship when it is not. I will listen carefully at the next board meeting to hear board member comments on what the policy proposal is because clearly I can’t get the truth from listening to the community comments.

    Thank you.

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