In a surprising and unsettling move, the Houston Independent School District is moving forward with plans to terminate librarian positions at 28 schools. Instead, these libraries will be converted into disciplinary spaces intended for students grappling with behavioral issues.
This controversial decision, scheduled to take effect in the upcoming academic year, has not only raised eyebrows but also garnered widespread opposition from both city officials and community organizers. It has ignited a passionate and critical response from various stakeholders.
The school district announced the measure as part of the educational reform plan designed by Mike Miles, the new superintendent of the Houston Independent School District (HISD).
Currently, 85 schools in the Houston area have joined the superintendent’s New Education System (NES)—28 of those campuses will forgo their librarians next year. Per the district’s announcements, they will be encouraged to transfer into other roles.
The remaining 57 campuses in Miles’ program are not exempted from suffering a similar fate: their librarians will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
Not Everyone is On board With The Changes
“I actually think it’s a significant disservice to the students of HISD,” said Janice Newsum, a former librarian, to local reporters.
She emphasized the impact on underprivileged kids: “Our less fortunate students are the ones that suffer the most, primarily because many of them live in situations that are reading deserts. They simply don’t have access to the reading materials.”
The mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, also condemned the removal of librarians as unacceptable.
“I’ve always been a strong proponent of libraries—especially in schools, in neighborhoods where kids are challenged for a number or reasons. When you close the libraries, you have gone too far,” Turner said during a City Council meeting, where he questioned the superintendent’s program.
Repurposing Rather Than Closing
Faced with such outspoken backlash, HISD initially sought to clarify that libraries would not be closed, just repurposed. The facilities will still be available to students who arrive before classes start or who stay late after the end of the school day.
For now, some of the former libraries are scheduled to become “team centers.” These will be spaces for students to work in throughout the day, to use either for personal study or in a group. Students with behavioral problems in class will also be sent to these team centers, where they can rejoin the lesson virtually.
Keep The Faith
In response to the mayor and other critics, the new superintendent asked the community and elected officials to keep an open mind and wait to see the plan in action: “If that’s a place for kids to learn, if you see it and you see kids in it learning, I think everybody will understand more.”
Students Face Lower-Than-Average Reading Scores
The decision to remove librarians from their posts came not long after HISD elementary and middle school students received below-average reading scores on a nationwide standardized test.
“We didn’t do well,” acknowledged Superintendent Miles when results were publicized.
Reading scores on the STAAR test decreased significantly at almost every grade level, with the exception of sixth graders. Some opponents of the new educational program would argue that librarians are among those best equipped to help students improve their reading skills.
“My heart is just broken for these children that are in the NES schools that are losing their librarians,” lamented Lisa Robinson, a retired HISD library teacher.
The former library teacher noted that Miles’ predecessor had an entirely different approach to the situation: Millard House II once pledged to place a librarian in every school in Houston. “The mandate for librarians had been put back in place. With one swipe of a pen, that has been destroyed,” said Robinson.
Citizens Taking Action
Community leaders are fighting back against the new policy. This past week, the Community Voices for Public Education hosted a block walk to inform citizens about the radical changes taking place at HISD schools. Parents, educators, students, and other community members are demanding that a librarian be placed in the library of every single school.
“It’s a horror story. Libraries should be a sacred place in our schools. To close them and turn it into ‘team centers’ just stuffed with desks where kids will go and do work online,” protested Melissa Yarbrough, a parent and teacher at HISD. “That’s not what libraries are made for.”
This article was produced and syndicated by TPR Teaching.
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Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.