Hermon residents who weighed in on whether the school committee should put in place a policy to adopt age-appropriate standards for library books containing sexual content supported the idea by 58 percent, according to Councilor Danielle Haggerty, who spearheaded the effort.
The council in January by a vote of 4-3 approved spending up to $6,000 to survey residents’ support for a policy that would identify books with sexual content in the town’s three schools.
The results of the survey were made public at Thursday’s council meeting.
Of the 5,095 surveys mailed, 1,146, or 22.5 percent, were returned. Of those, 581 strongly supported the policy, 64 somewhat supported it while 44 respondents somewhat opposed the idea and 425 strongly opposed it. Some surveys were returned that were not filled out.
The survey was not mailed to residents in Carmel and Levant, whose students attend Hermon High School.
Early this year, the Hermon School Committee by a vote of 5-1 rejected the proposed policy change. It was unclear Thursday what effect the survey would have after Hermon High School Principal Brian Walsh announced earlier this month that library books with adult themes and content would be placed on a reserve shelf behind the circulation desk. Beginning this fall, students will need parental permission to look at the books and check them out.
Voters on June 13 ousted incumbent school board member Kristen Shorey and elected Brian Veneziano, an advocate for a book rating system. He joins Haily Keezer, who was elected last year. Keezer was the only member who supported changing the policy to screen books for sexual content.
That applies only to the high school library so Walsh did not need board approval to implement the plan. It does not apply to the middle or elementary schools but a group of parents who screened library books claimed to have identified 80 books with sexual content. All but one book was in the high school library, according to a report on the screenings.
Keezer on Thursday praised the council for asking the community to weigh in, which “the school board was not willing to do.” She also praised Walsh’s efforts.
“I can’t say that would have happened without this feedback from the community,” she said of Walsh’s plan.
Deb Farnham called the survey “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
“It was a move to make a point and that was not responsible,” she said.
Haggerty, who was tasked with overseeing the survey and working to compile results, said that the response to the survey was high and showed that the issue is important to Hermon residents.
The group of parents who advocated for changes to the library book policy claims its goal is not to ban books but to persuade the school committee to create a ratings system similar to those used to rate movies, television programs and video games. Maine lawmakers in Augusta last week rejected a bill that would have created such a ranking system.
The controversy in Hermon began when parents expressed concern over a display of LGBTQ+ books in the high school library in late 2021. For more than a 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.