The Hermon Town Council on Thursday will consider spending up to $5,000 on a survey to find out how residents feel about the controversy over library books in the town’s three schools.
Details about what questions would be asked, how the survey would be distributed and when results would be compiled have not been worked out.
The controversy began when parents expressed concern over a display of LGBTQ books in the high school library in late 2021. Over the past year, a group of parents has organized and advocated for the school committee to implement a policy that would identify library books that contain sexual content, but would not remove or ban them.
One of the concerns about the policy was that it would lead to an outright book ban, but supporters of the policy to screen for sexual content deny their goal is to ban any book from the school libraries.
The idea for the survey came from a resident at the council’s Jan. 5 meeting, which occurred prior to the school committee’s vote on Jan. 9 not to screen library books for sexual content.
Brian Veneziano, who supports including screening for sexual content of library books in Hermon School Department policy, told councilors that he believes a majority of residents agree with him and the group Concerned Hermon School District Community Members.
The group identified more than 80 books it claims have sexual content in the school libraries. All but one of the books were found in the high school library. One was in the middle school library.
American Library ASsociation’s commonly challenged book list
“I request that you conduct a survey of residents to ascertain the true level of support for content standards,” Veneziano said. “I am confident the results of such a survey will demonstrate the community support to establish age-appropriate standards in our schools, and will help compel the school committee and the superintendent to implement such standards.”
Hermon School Superintendent Michah Grant said Wednesday that no one from the town had informed him about a possible survey of residents.
“I will be attending the meeting,” he said. “At this point, I have a lot of questions about how this will be done.”
Grant also said that school librarians will create a list of books this summer that could be deemed as controversial.
It would not be a ratings system, which some parents have advocated for, but a spreadsheet letting parents know a book might have “controversial content,” so parents can seek out information about it.
Hermon school libraries have a policy that allows parents to prevent their children from checking out certain books, but the policy does allow students to peruse books without parental permission.
While a few community members have threatened to recall school committee members who did not support the proposed screening of library books, no one has taken out petitions from the town office.
If councilors approve the survey, once it is completed, the town council could make recommendations based on the results, but under Maine law the school committee is not required to implement them.
All the council can do is recommend to attendees at the June town meeting a different amount of funding for the budget than the school committee recommended.
That is what happened last year when the council endorsed a budget $100,000 less than the school committee proposed. Voters narrowly agreed with the council.
The Hermon Town Council will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday in the council chambers in the fire station. The meeting will be live-streamed on the town’s website hermonmaine.gov.