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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) recently announced an increase in per-pupil funding for public and public charter schools and the infusion of several millions of dollars of federal relief funds, both of which would give District schools greater latitude in addressing academic gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.
The degree to which these additional funds would slow down or reverse what has been described as the rapid removal of school librarians, however, has yet to be determined.
Some school librarians, like K.C. Boyd, say that given the rules currently in place and what has transpired over the last year, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) will more than likely not change course.
“Some of the people downtown are not well-versed on the benefits of having a librarian on staff,” said Boyd, who works in Ward 6. “When you don’t have that experience or lens, or you haven’t worked with an experienced librarian, it’s easy to say that we don’t need one.”
Boyd, a librarian of several decades. counted among those who’ve criticized the removal of public school librarians since last March, when schools transitioned from in-person learning to virtual.
She said that school officials have disregarded librarians’ value, even as they’ve connected teachers and students with additional resources to mitigate their struggles in the virtual realm.
Additional cuts to librarian jobs, Boyd said, would place the District along the same path of Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and other urban school districts that experienced a decline in student progress after the reduction of staff members.
“This is not about saving jobs. It’s about children growing up with a school librarian from kindergarten to grade 12,” Boyd told The Informer. “Librarians connect students with resources to make them well-rounded. I feel like they’re being dis-serviced.”
D.C. Council Members, Others Seek Policy Change
Earlier this month, several teachers testified during a hearing where D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and other officials espoused a need for measures that would prevent the probable loss of DCPS staff members.
Weeks prior, during an oversight hearing, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said that a decline in overall enrollment, along with the loss of computers and other devices placed additional strain on principals who’ve had to consider budget cuts.
Not even Ferebee’s acknowledgment that DCPS received an additional $60 million in budget assistance quelled concerns among some council members that staff members wouldn’t lose jobs.
Angela Falkenberg, the assistant director of the DC Library Association School Library Section, said this scenario has played out for several years, often at the expense of librarians who school leaders have often considered expendable.
“There needs to be a policy change [so that] school librarians are required in schools in all eight wards,” said Falkenberg, a school librarian in Ward 1.
“DCPS is looking for short-term solutions like aides or non-certified staff,” she continued. “When school librarians are cut, that means students won’t be learning media literacy and essential skills for college and career readiness, which is what the district encourages and promotes. You’re losing someone who provides several different roles within a school.”
Loss of Support Systems
Last year, 70 percent of the District’s 118 public schools had full-time librarians, while librarians at schools serving a student population of fewer than 300 students work part-time. In the charter school sector, half of the schools have libraries curated by either a librarian or reading specialist.
School libraries have been credited with increasing access to print and digital materials that support reading. Some educators, including Michael Grier of the Ward 8 Education Council, also tout them as incubators of literacy, not only for students but families.
Grier told The Informer that with so much emphasis on the core subjects, students, especially those attending schools east of the Anacostia River, will be disadvantaged without a well-rounded education while their teachers, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, juggle the increasing workload.
“This is not maximizing instruction or looking at the whole child. It’s putting so much responsibility on the math, English, science, and social studies teachers,” Grier said. “It’s not engaging the students. If we don’t have an equitable amount of extracurricular activities and electives, the students won’t be engaged. They’ll find somewhere else to go.”