Baldwin County Public Schools superintendent Eddie Tyler told 1819 News that the school system is being proactive about removing inappropriate materials offered to children in libraries and digitally.

In response to Hoover City Schools pausing the use of SORA, an online library system, Tyler said his school system did this months ago.

Parents across the state have spoken out against SORA, claiming books with mature content were being made available to kids using SORA.

Tyler said he heard from concerned citizens about the rise in the number of progressive materials made available to students in 2023, and the system acted. He said the system wants to ensure age appropriateness and community standards.

“During that time, nearly 20,000 books have been reviewed,” Tyler said. “Through that review, one book was removed and seven have been reclassified into older age groups.”

“During this process, we also reviewed our media content, provided by our digital partners, and accessible to our students,” he continued. “Through the years, some of these national partners have become more progressive in what they offer and in some cases, they have begun providing access to what we consider to be inappropriate material for some of our age groups. Sora was one partner we reviewed and in fact, we removed access to Sora for elementary students in 2023. This was due to concerns with the filtering system and Sora's inability to limit access to age-appropriate material for K-6 students.”

Tyler explained that no one in the school system has attempted to add inappropriate material to libraries but said the sheer number of books coming into the library creates a challenge for school leaders.

“Rather, the quantity of books that are donated or ordered through a subscription service, as well as the digital media partners who have become more progressive over the years, makes this a challenge,” he said. “From content filters limiting general web content in our Chromebooks to online libraries, this has become an even more pressing issue. Some of these groups, including names like Scholastic, have been partners with educators for generations and we have never had to look over their shoulder. Today, we are spending significant resources to review, not just their filters, restrictions, policies and procedures, but also the actual inventory of materials they are providing to our students.”

After realizing that offering digital materials improves student reading, Tyler said the school system had to strategize how to navigate the negative.

“Unfortunately, as we see our program partners begin to adopt more progressive materials, it puts us in a position of having to choose whether access to a few bad apples is worth completely discontinuing the entire program,” Tyler added. “It has been and continues to be our hope that we can weed out some of these specific problems while continuing to utilize the larger vault of resources. However, in some instances, we have accepted that discontinuation of the relationship and removal of access to materials may be the best choice.”

Lastly, Tyler reminded parents to be vigilant with all their children’s electronic devices and suggested adding parental controls to smartphones.

“While many of us may disagree on the varying different interpretations of inappropriate or explicit, I hope we can all agree that we need to be responsible adults when it comes to weighing the benefit of accessibility with the access to inappropriate material for children,” he said.

Hoover City Schools is reviewing SORA and is currently removing inappropriate books. The system said SORA would be made available again after that review.

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