Hermon High School. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Students will need parental permission to read or check out books containing sexual content in the Hermon High School library beginning this fall, Principal Brian Walsh told the school board Monday.

Under the plan, parents will be asked to fill out a form that must be returned along with similar forms at the beginning of the school year. It will offer parents three options: to restrict access to all library materials, to restrict access to those containing adult/mature themes, or to allow access to books and other materials regardless of their content.

The books will be placed on a reserve shelf behind the library’s circulation desk.

That plan addresses concerns expressed by parents over the past two years about students being able to access books containing sexual content without parental consent. It does not affect the libraries in the middle or elementary schools and does not require board approval.

The group Concerned Hermon School District Community Members in January claimed it identified more than 80 books with sexual content in school libraries. All but one were in the high school library, according to the group.

Across the nation, conservative groups have made similar proposals to restrict access to certain books in schools but they have seen limited success so far in Maine.

Brian Veneziano, who is running for school committee, has advocated for a ratings system for library books. On Monday, he praised Walsh’s protocol and urged committee members to adopt it as a policy. A proposed policy that would have identified library books with sexual content failed in January by a 4-1 vote.

The controversy over library books has divided the community.

“[Mr. Walsh] did something in the last 44 minutes to change the culture [for the better],” Veneziano said. “He took a leadership role and this will be well received.”

Walsh said that he got the idea from a form used in English classes in which parents are asked to give permission for students to read books with adult themes. If parents object to the book, they may ask for a different book with similar themes.

The principal said that the high school’s library system allows librarians to set patron levels by entering the name of the student and which option is chosen. At the beginning of the year, all students will be defaulted to not being able to access books with adult and/or sexual content until the form has been returned.

“I hope this protocol will spark some good conversations between parents and children,” Walsh told the school committee.

Walsh said that he discussed the plan with the Hermon High School Parent Council, whose members received it favorably.

“This is similar to the technology form parents fill out about what level of internet access students should have on school computers and laptops,” Walsh said.

The principal said that library staff would use two different programs to determine whether books should be on the reserve shelf. They are NoveList Plus and Common Sense Media.

Still pending in Hermon, are the results of a survey of voters paid for by the Hermon Town Council about whether they support identifying books with sexual content in school libraries or not. It could not be determined Monday how the results might impact the new protocol at the high school library.