The Hamilton County school board's special committee tasked with concerns about reading material and exploring available options to address those concerns is holding its first meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the district headquarters.
"I think we have seen from community members, and it's been brought to the board that there are some concerns about what's in our libraries," school board chair Tucker McClendon, who requested the committee be formed, said during a January phone interview. "It has nothing to do with banning books or getting rid of books or anything like that."
Each school board member appointed two individuals residing in their district to serve on the committee, which will be chaired by school board member Rhonda Thurman of Hixson.
Nancy Patty and Jamie Lamay in District 1, Meg Day and Kathy Lennon in District 2, Kristen Killingsworth and Nicole Galletta in District 3, Paula Wilson and Shawanda Mason in District 4, James McKissic and Angela Favaloro in District 5, Autumn Witt Boyd and Lyn Scharf Hunter in District 6, Jay Price and David Kelman in District 7, Taylor Hartgrove and Kelsie Anderson in District 8, and Wayne McBrayer and Loretta Lowe in District 9 were appointed to the committee.
"I want to be able to serve our community in a way that benefits our children, teachers and our students, and if I can represent them and bring any insight into this topic, I am more than willing to do that," said Lennon, as to why she agreed to be on the committee after being asked by District 2 school board representative Marco Perez, of Signal Mountain.
In October 2021, Thurman raised concern over the content of reading material in schools, saying the books include "vile content." Specific books she referenced include "Far from the Tree" by Robin Benway and "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas, among others.
Thurman said she'll be giving committee members information about the school system's policies and procedures involving how books get into school libraries and classrooms at the first meeting.
"Right now there doesn't seem to be a real clear policy about how we're getting books in the library," she said, adding that there is a group that is putting books into classrooms, and some of those books have not been reviewed by school administrators. "Quite frankly some of the principals don't know anything about these books, and I think we should have a uniform policy in Hamilton County."
According to school board policy, optional reading material in the school library or classroom is monitored, but "there may be sensitive content in those books that was not previously reviewed by school personnel."
The policy states concerned individuals can file a "Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials" form. Upon receipt of the form, the school's principal and any teachers or librarians involved review the complaint and assign it to a "review committee," which has 15 days to read and review of the material, hold a hearing with the involved faculty members and make a decision.
Last fall, former Hamilton County Schools communications officer Cody Patterson told the Times Free Press that three such forms had been filed: one for "Far from the Tree" on Oct. 12 and two on Oct. 13 for "The Hate U Give" and "On the Come Up" by Angie Thomas.
Those complaints were heard by the Board of Education on Oct. 21, and no action was taken for reconsideration or removal of those texts, Hamilton County Schools communications officer Steve Doremus said by email.
He said he is not aware of any additional complaints being filed.
Contact Emily Crisman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6508.