‘Where the Crawdads Sing,

‘Where the Crawdads Sing,

Debating whether to remove four books from the Williamson County Schools library — including the popular, movie-adapted “Where the Crawdads Sing” — seemed to some school board members like a straightforward vote.

However, discussion “got off the tracks,” according to at least one board member.

The board was considering a school district-appointed committee’s recommendation that the books remain in the library when a motion was made to require parental approval to check out the four books. Later, the motion was amended to include only two of the books. 

Ultimately, the board voted to delay a vote until April, based on the recommendation of superintendent Jason Golden and the school board’s attorney. 

Four books in question? 

A parent filed a complaint with the school district, objecting to four books being in the district’s library: “Speak,” “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Field Guide to the North American Teenager” and “Where the Crawdads Sing.” 

Golden appointed A Committee for the Reconsideration of Library Books, which includes Willie Dickerson, an executive director of secondary education, board member Jay Galbreath and parent group leaders. 

The committee met for almost 20 hours, not including the required committee member reading time. Their conclusion: “Without having clear guidance on how to determine the ‘level’ of objectionable content or age appropriateness that would dictate the removal of a book from the library per state law; the committee recommendation is that all four books…should not be removed from our high school libraries.”

The parent complainant also agreed with the committee’s conclusion, Dickerson said.

Books rating scale suggested

Board members said they appreciated the committee’s work — but not everyone agreed with the decision. 

“I still feel we are going to get more and more complaints for (book) reconsideration,” said board member Dan Cash. 

He said the reconsideration process is time-consuming and likely not a permanent solution. 

“I personally feel the age of 18 is when we allow our children to vote. We allow them to buy cigarettes. We allow them to buy (adult) magazines at 18 years old. I think we are forgetting that in the school system sometimes,” Cash said. “I believe we need a rating scale for these books.”

More:Williamson County Schools committee removes book from elementary curriculum

Parental permission discussed

Board member Donna Clements disagreed with the committee’s conclusion. 

“I can’t support some of this because there are a couple of books that have some rape scenes, force oral sex, and rape of a girl that had too much to drink at a party,” Clements said. “There are just some heavy, heavy things that we are putting on our children and our youth. We wonder why we have a mental health crisis. 

“I would venture that we are putting too much on our kids.”

Board member Eric Welch later said that some of the issues explored in the books could be beneficial to teens. 

“The hard, awful truth is that some of our students will experience those in our lifetime,” Welch said. “We take away the ability to be armored in advance of it.” 

Welch also described a Tennessee law passed last year as a “dichotomy” allowing a state commission to ban books in school libraries while the state also works to improve student literacy. 

“Maybe I am alone in that, but that just seems like an odd mix,” Welch said. “We need to improve literacy, but we need to get more books out of the library at the same time.”

Board member Josh Brown agreed with Clements that the books’ subject matter is “heavy.”

“Ultimately it comes back to this board to make a decision based on this state law,” Brown said. “In the absence of guidance, it’s up to us to come up with something. I think we are kind of floundering a little bit, trying to figure out what that is.

“I am inclined to make a motion that these four books be subject to some kind of parental approval.”

Board member Galbreath, who served on the reconsideration committee, said he believed only two books should be restricted: “Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Where the Crawdads Sing.”  

The motion the board ultimately considered was required parental permission for those two books.

‘Think we got off the tracks here’

Board member Rick Wimberly said the parent approval discussion was getting into “very complex and controversial subjects right now.” 

“We can do whatever we want,” Wimberly said. “You can get these books anywhere. You can be assured that if we put stipulations on these books, their value will increase.” 

Wimberly suggested that the vote and discussion be deferred. Golden agreed with the idea.

However, board member Sheila Cleveland wondered if they could not simply reset and move forward with a vote on the committee’s finding.

“I think we got off the tracks here,” Cleveland said. “I thought it was already resolved. And, the complainant was OK with it.” 

Golden urged the board to defer the vote to allow for more work session discussion and to study the legalities of parental permission for checking out books.

Chris Gadd writes about business development, dining and more in Williamson County. He can be reached at cgadd@tennessean.com.

More:‘Places of voluntary inquiry’: How Williamson County Schools approach selecting library books