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Library book policy update on Rapid City Area Schools desk

After contentious debate over library books in Rapid City Area Schools expanded into a national headline, the policies that led to the situation are now under the microscope.

At the most recent Rapid City Area Schools board meeting, a major hurdle facing the board was unveiled – overlapping and unclear policies that date back decades.

Superintendent Nicole Swigart said the school board wants to cut some of the weeds.

“My understanding is our curriculum policy and our library policy really overlapped," Swigart said. "We wanted to make sure we separated those so there was a distinct library book policy and a curriculum policy where the curriculum goes through the committee.”

Interim assistant superintendent Mike Talley said district library policy needs to be modernized.

“A lot of our policies we’ve been reviewing is they’ve been revised so many times over the years that there is contradictory language," Talley said. "I think we haven’t in the past done a good enough job of really reading through the entire policy and looking at procedures, so we’re finding procedures not matching policies and old portions of policy not matching revised portions of policy.”

The proposed resource management policy would place more scrutiny on what books are allowed in school libraries, including a formal complaint process which would remove books in question from circulation until the completion of the process.

There are still differences of opinion among the board members of what to do regarding library policy. Two members, Jamie Clapham and Michael Bierkland, advocated for compromise. Bierkland said there is a way students can responsibly access controversial material.

“I am asking for a compromise – and saying they can stay in, but we flag them," Bierkland said. "We are banning – not banning, we are not banning, I’m sorry I used that word – we are removing these books, and that is that. I think we can come up with a reasonable compromise of moving them to a separate section like Mrs. Swigart mentioned. I just hate to say, ‘no parent, no student can access these if anyone says otherwise’.”

New policy needs two readings before adoption. The first vote passed 3-2 with one member absent.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture
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