Recently, I received another email from a colleague that all of her school district’s libraries will be manned by paraprofessionals next year. The position of “certified school librarian” is being eliminated entirely.
This has become an-all-too common scenario in the state of Ohio. Teachers and service personnel are often shocked to learn that the Ohio State Operating Standards actually allow for the indiscriminate elimination of school positions. A provision in the Standards (3301-35-05) states, “…Educational service personnel shall be assigned to at least five of the eight following areas: counselor, library media specialist, school nurse, visiting teacher, social worker and elementary art, music and physical education. …” As of 2012-2013 there were 157 school districts without a single certified school librarian. That affects at least 240,000 students.
We are not the only state to have endured a lack of funds for our schools. Some states have weathered the great recession and are demanding that school libraries and certified librarians remain a part of their districts. In 2006, a state law in Iowa required qualified teacher librarians and K-12 library programs in ever school district. As recently as last month, 25 school librarians were added in Minnesota’s St Paul Public Schools by 2015, (thanks to the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers who bargained for these positions). Even cash-strapped Washington, D. C. schools will add 30 school librarians in the next school year.
Every few years, the Ohio State School Board is required to update section 3301-35-05 of the Ohio State Operating Standards to adequately reflect the needs of state districts and school children. The next scheduled update is in 2015. The OSSB Operating Standards Committee has simply proposed changing the wording to “Educational service personnel are credentialed staff with the knowledge, skills, and expertise to support the educational, instructional, health, mental health, and college/career readiness needs of students.” Essentially, this restates the definition of “credentialed staff.” It does nothing to insure that students have access to the service personnel they so desperately need in the 21st century. The proposed wording totally eliminates the necessary mandates to insure that school districts are required to hire even five of eight service personnel. If this passes as written, district administrators will have the option of eliminating all service personnel from their payroll, and will not have to trim budgets in other areas that have less of an impact on our students.
Children need school counselors. They need guidance once in a while when there is none coming from home. Children need school nurses. Medical care is sometimes a life and death situation. Children need social workers. Sometimes children with special needs require the help only social workers can provide, so these students can be successful adults. Children need physical education teachers. For some students, classes in physical activity will be the only organized sport they will ever play. Students need to be exposed to the arts! For some students, this will be the only time the will get to pick up a paintbrush or mold a lump of clay. It may be their only opportunity to sing or develop a special talent they never knew they had.
Of course, students need access to books and libraries, the exposure to information research skills, a love for reading and life-long learning, developing inquiry paradigms, avoiding plagiarism, recognizing authoritative information, becoming responsible digital citizens, taking PAARC assessments successfully, and passing the third grade reading tests, so students can move on to the fourth grade. Only certified school librarians can provide many of these much needed skills. It’s time our state school board protects our students and gives them the service providers they will need to become successful adults and contributing members of society in the 21st century.
I urge teachers and parents to contact their Ohio State School Board members and insist they amend the proposed language of section 3301-35-05 of the State Operating Standards to include all service personnel mentioned in the 2010 version.
By: Susan Ridgeway, Wooster Education Association