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Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Ethical Dilemmas: What would you do?

Students suggest titles and topics for the librarian to purchase books. I took a photo of the small bag hanging on my desk where I collect suggestions year round. Note some of the most recent requests for Teen Pregnancy books and Sex-Ed books.

Big deal, you’re probably thinking. You teach in a suburban middle school and teens always request this information. So what?

How about being put in a situation where the principal tells you in front of the assistant principal to make sure you understand it that “no adult in the library will help students research STD’s”?

Why? Some of the website images that a classroom aide accessed at school showing STD’s were graphic and a parent complained. The aide was put on leave.

I had to explain to administration why I would allow a student to research treatment on STD’s after they told me they’d gotten it from someone else at school. The explanation was not enough. The administrator told me he was fully aware of the first amendment and what part of his order did I not understand. Also, I had to justify and provide a list of every title we had on STD’s so higher officials in the district could determine if they met the science health department’s policies on sexual education instructional guidelines.

I had to point out that the majority of the titles were purchased as part of an opening day collection in 2001 so some were dated, and they were there long before I arrived.  I admitted I was currently researching new titles to add to the collection to meet the needs of our students. I was immediately interrogated as to who would make the decision as to the final purchase selection and I confirmed that my district coordinator reviewed each list.

Then my yearly evaluation was marked as less than satisfactory for my ability to select materials. What?! Someone is trying to say that I cannot evaluate a collection and select appropriate materials? May I beg to disagree? I believe I have far more “street cred” with librarians and teachers than that.

What would you do in this situation? Also, do you have additional titles you’d add to middle school collection for the topic of sexual education, diseases, and dating? I’m still interested even though I’m being reassigned to a classroom instead of the library next year.

UPDATED: Attached is my district policy  IM 4 154 F amily Life and Sexuality Education Policy (2010-2011) (2) . As I read the policy, I cannot locate any specific information on school library materials, only materials for instruction in classrooms.


  1. I am sickened by so much that has happened at our school this year. Are people in denial that middle schoolers are sexually active? I have students who are 14 and 15 years old! As much as we want to pretend that it isn’t happening, it is! Look at our culture and how sex is promoted in the media! Listen to popular music, watch TV (Jersey Shores is a favorite of my students).

    I shared an article from our newspaper–The Tennessean– about the proliferation of HIV in young people and especially those of color. I didn’t read the whole article because I was fearful of yet more censorship. In my opinion, it is IMMORAL to withhold needed information. What’s more important: To know what a gerund is, or how to protect yourself from an STD?

  2. I think you did right by trying to educate your admin. I would hope that your district media/library supervisor would also come your aid and help educate all admins in your district about collection development and access to appropriate info. Middle School was always the hardest age for me in collection development because of this kind of dilemma. I found that parents were much more supportive when I had a chance to talk with them face to face and explain that books were for all students, not just their own. Your district should have a Coll. Dev. Policy that supports 1st amendment rights and librarians as professionals. And admins should understand and back it up.

  3. David Britten says:

    Sensitive, controversial topics are handled differently across school districts, communities, and even states. In Michigan, we have specific laws governing reproductive health which require a district committee that must review all curriculum and related materials before Board of Education approval. In addition, we have to make those materials available for review by parents on an annual basis. The district committee must include staff, parents, Board members, and a clergy representative. There are also rules in place at the state level about qualifications for teacher certification in the area of reproductive health. We also have a defined process for complaints about any materials in our media centers. With all of these rules and processes in place, its very unlikely we would experience a similar situation.

  4. Lisa Von Drasek Diane Chen says:

    Family Life and Sexuality Education
    2010-2011 Approved Resources
    MNPS Middle Schools

    Teen Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention
    Focus: Sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS), relationships, hygiene, puberty, self-esteem
    Contact Person: Lillian Maddox-Whitehead
    Phone: 615-340-2261
    Email address:
    Website address:

    Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee
    Focus: Puberty, abstinence, contraception, sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS), reproductive anatomy, healthy relationships,
    Contact Person: Kayce Matthews
    Phone: 615-345-0952 x212
    Email address:
    Website address:

    United Neighborhood Health Services
    Focus: Sexually transmitted infections, relationships
    Contact Person: Lynn Stewart
    Phone: 615-335-1522
    Email address:
    Website address:

    Metro Health Department
    Focus: Sexually transmitted infections
    Contact Person: Brad Beasley
    Phone: 615-340-5676
    Email address:
    Website address:

    Positive Prevention Alliance
    Focus: Sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS), negotiation skills, abstinence
    Contact Person: Lynn Whitlow
    Phone: 615-297-0783
    Email address:
    Website address:
    Decisions, Choices & Options: Facts about Teen Pregnancy
    Focus: Choices facing teen pregnancy (adoption, abortion, parenting),
    Contact Person: Joi Wasill
    Phone: 615-308-5372
    Email address:
    Website address:

    *List provided by Dr. Tina M. Bozeman, Coordinator of Health, Wellness and Physical Education

  5. You have been put in a tough situation. I am sorry about the treatment you have had to go through. I understand both sides. In most districts they are providing (and pushing in the classroom) too much “liberal” information. It seems that your district is doing the opposite and not providing enough. This topic is tough. It is one that parents should deal with, but they don’t. I personally provided my daughter with books I found reviews at conservative sites and that I read myself. I wanted the information to be be open and honest, but not push depraved activities or make sex seem like NBD. Information on STD is VERY important. It scared me in high school! :) In part, your administration is probably uncomfortable dealing with this issue and they are afraid of parental backlash. They way they have handled it though does not sound professional or fair to you.