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School officials decline to change library policy in Ludlow, as community remains divided

The School Committee in Ludlow, Massachusetts, declined to vote on a proposal Tuesday night that could have removed dozens of books from the district’s libraries and changed how future books are selected.

Longtime Ludlow resident and school committee member Joao Dias brought the proposal to the committee earlier this spring because the district needs to rid its libraries of pornographic books, he said.

No member seconded Dias' motion to vote.

The proposal, if passed, could lead to the removal of any printed material or images that depict sexuality, including young adult fiction, health education books and certain art images.

Ludlow School Committee Member Sarah Bowler said she would have voted against the proposal if it had come for a final vote.

Bowler acknowledged there are problems with the existing library policy. It gives parents an option to challenge books made available to their kids, but Bowler said it's complicated.

"I am in favor of maybe creating a subcommittee to look at [the current policy]," Bowler said. "I don't think we need to go to the extreme of what we have right now presented in front of us."

The proposal brought a national spotlight to the Hampden County town. In the last few weeks, during several School Committee meetings, Ludlow residents participated in hours of public comments.

At Tuesday's meeting, some public comments — including several bible-readings — were made by visitors from eastern Massachusetts.

Earlier this spring, the ACLU of Massachusetts called Dias' proposal unlawful and a not-very-veiled attempt to suppress literature about LGBTQ experiences.

Dias said he based his policy on one he found online, at the Central Bucks School District in Pennsylvania. The ACLU has challenged that district's policy in a federal lawsuit.

The proposal could have given elected school committee members decision-making powers that would override book selections made by librarians.

In Massachusetts, when a school committee does not vote on a proposal, procedurally, it could land back on the committee's agenda. But not during Chairman Jeff Laing's term. Laing said the proposal had riled up the community enough, and he encouraged parents to start using the current book policy.

"There's one way to prove that a policy is not working correctly," Laing said, "and that is to use it so that way we can have some data on it, not just to fight for parents' rights."

Over multiple years, the policy has been used four times, Laing said.

"Now we just want to strip everything with any word of sex in it," Laing said. "And I know everyone says [Dias' proposal] is not about LGBTQ, but it is. It is. It is a way to get to them because people believe that our schools are grooming kids to become gay, lesbian, trans, which is totally not true."

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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