Public schools without librarians? It’s a problem the DC council is working on

Did you know there isn’t a librarian in all schools in the District? If passed, the Student’s Right to Read Amendment Act of 2021 would change that.

The proposal to require funding for librarians came from D.C. Council member Charles Allen.

The decision to hire librarians has been at the school level, and some schools can’t afford it.

“Principals are not choosing to cut a librarian because they don’t want a librarian,” Allen said at the Committee of the Whole hearing on the topic. “They’re cutting a librarian because they aren’t getting the resources they need in other areas.”

Allen was also disheartened with what he saw as inequity when it comes to this issue.

“When we see that we have 36 schools that didn’t have a librarian (this year), the majority of which were in the eastern half of the city. Wards 7 [and] 8 are disproportionately impacted by that,” Allen said. “It tells us something. It tells us the systems we have in place aren’t accomplishing what it is we want.”

DCPS librarian Christopher Stewart addressed the committee, citing concern for his mostly minority students. He told the committee that there’s no excuse for DCPS to avoid putting a librarian in every school.

“I don’t believe DCPS hates school librarians or that they don’t want Black and brown students and parents in Ward 7 and 8 to thrive,” Stewart said. “But, I do believe there are social, economic and ethnic inequities that have been able to fester due to a lack of compassionate-fueled conversations and actions.”

He also said he believes that DCPS could learn from neighboring Maryland and its school systems.

“Maryland requires each school system to establish a library media program run by certified personnel, librarians, for all students and educators,” Stewart said.

Some D.C. public school librarian positions have not been full-time opportunities. Amidon-Bowen Elementary School parent Grace Hu told the committee they had a part-time librarian, but she left for a full-time job in a more affluent area.

“How is it that students at Amidon-Bowen don’t deserve a full-time librarian, but a child in another part of town does,” she asked.

Speaking at the hearing, DCPS Deputy Chancellor Amy Maisterra said they will be mandating a librarian in each school for the 2022 school year.

While Allen was pleased to hear that, he worried about the years that will follow.

“It puts schools and it puts our librarians in an untenable position of not knowing,” he said. “If we truly believe it’s important, then that uncertainty shouldn’t be there.”

Instead, he wants to make sure there is a full-time librarian position that is funded annually, without cutting something else from school budgets.

“If all this commitment means is the librarian funding is going to be here, and the position is required, but then all the other positions are vulnerable, then we haven’t really accomplished anything outside of making sure there’s a librarian, which is important. We’re back in the same situation,” Allen said.

If the bill passes, the Student’s Right to Read Amendment Act of 2021 would mandate funding for at least one full-time librarian at every school in the district.

The record on the topic will be open until Dec. 7 for anyone who wants to add comments on the proposal.

Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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