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Orange Unified restores digital library, suspended over parents’ book complaints

Orange Unified School District students regained access Friday to an online library app, five days after a new interim superintendent suspended its use in the wake of some parents’ complaints over a couple of books, one of them an LGBT story with descriptions of sex and explicit language meant for older teens.

Interim Superintendent Edward Velasquez restored the Sora app Friday after a review that found some glitches and four books misclassified.

“Virtual libraries are critical resources for our students,” Velasquez told the school board during its meeting Thursday night.

“We’re committed to providing access to grade-level appropriate content and respect that different families have different values. At the end of the day,  it’s my hope that parents are aware about the type of media they are consuming – at school and at home – and discuss what aligns with parental expectations,” Velasquez read from a statement that was also posted online Friday.

Addressing some parent and teacher concerns over censorship and book bans, Velasquez emphasized that: “No books and no book categories have been removed from the app.”

Four books were improperly classified in the system. One of them was “The Music of What Happens,” which features two gay teenagers and addresses the trauma one of them faces from an earlier rape.

The book’s publisher had incorrectly labeled the book as appropriate for elementary-age students, but the book has now been reclassified for middle school and high school students, school officials said.

“We are putting the book back on the shelf,” Velasquez told the board.

That didn’t seem to sit well with Board President Rick Ledesma, who pulled out his phone to replay for the audience passages a concerned parent read at a board meeting last month.

“This is highly inappropriate,” protested Trustee Andrea Yamasaki.

“We’re still saying this is acceptable,” Ledesma said. “This isn’t about book banning … this has been about giving parents a say … before you hijack the innocence of their child.”

In reply to questions from Trustee Kris Erickson about how many complaints have been lodged and how many students checked out “The Music of What Happens,” a school administrator said it was checked out by 10 high school and middle school students and one elementary-grade student, who checked it out multiple times.

As for the number of complaints about the Sora digital library app, there have been two since 2014, both since last October, said David Lane, an administrator in the district’s information technology department.

“I’m grateful to have Sora back online,” said Greg Goodlander, president of the Orange Unified Education Association, the union that represents teachers. “It’s been a disruption to the education process for many of our students and I’m thankful it’s going to be back up.”

“The Music of What Happens” was one of two books parents raised issues with during a Jan. 19 school board meeting, which was the first session that brought together the newly hired Velasquez with a board that hired him earlier this year on a split vote.

Orange Unified has been reeling since Jan. 5, when the new conservative majority on the board fired its superintendent and placed a second top administrator on paid leave pending an audit.  That same night, the board majority appointed Velasquez – an out-of-state retired superintendent who previously worked in Southern California school districts – to fill in as interim until the board hires a full-time superintendent.

Thursday night’s six-and-a-half hour meeting got testy at times, starting early on when Ledesma cut off the microphone while one parent was speaking.

“We’re in a period of chaos and we don’t know what’s coming next,” one parent, reflecting the anxiety of many in the room, told the board Thursday night.

The board meets next on March 2.

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