A new Long Beach Unified District Policy could leave some elementary schools without teacher-librarians for the next school year—and parents and staff are pushing back.

Parents and teacher-librarians, who are credentialed to educate kids with no teacher supervision, showed up in force to last night’s Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education meeting to protest the change in policy for library staffing, arguing that it would remove needed resources from district students.

It’s unclear how many schools would be impacted by the policy change. Some staff members said during last night’s meeting that it would leave 23 schools without a teacher-librarian, but LBUSD spokesperson Chris Eftychiou declined to provide specific information on how many schools currently have teacher-librarians and how many would remain under the proposed plan.

Longfellow Elementary School in Bixby Knolls has been at the heart of the pushback, since the parents and teachers on its school site council recently voted to use discretionary school funds to increase its teacher-librarian staffing from half-time to full-time. After that vote, the council was informed by the school’s principal that Longfellow would be receiving a full-time “media assistant” next year under the new LBUSD policy, with no district funding for a teacher-librarian.

That’s because the new policy allocates teacher-librarians to schools based on enrollment and what percentage of students are considered Title I, meaning they qualify for free or reduced lunch. Longfellow is one of the largest elementary schools in the district, but its percentage of Title I students is in the 40-60% range, so the school is slated to receive a full-time media assistant instead of a teacher-librarian.

While teacher-librarians are certificated and credentialed, meaning they can ease the burden on teachers and offer small-group instruction or one-on-one interventions while students are in the library, media assistants are classified employees without a credential, so there are more restrictions on what they can do with students, and a teacher is required to be present when a media assistant is with students.

According to the district’s new policy, the only schools that would receive a full-time teacher-librarian are those with 750 or more students that have 80-100% of students falling under the Title I designation. Other schools may be designated a full-time media assistant, a part-time teacher-librarian, a part-time media assistant or a combination of a part-time teacher-librarian and a part-time media assistant, depending on enrollment and percentage of students considered Title I.

“This strategy of using percentages doesn’t do an accurate job of comparing schools and dividing resources,” Elise Bryant, a celebrated author and parent on Longfellow’s SSC, said during public comment at last night’s meeting. “Over 400 of our students receive free or reduced lunch, and Longfellow has 140 Black students. … These underserved populations at Longfellow are bigger than entire schools who are in some cases being allocated a teacher-librarian, when Longfellow is being denied this necessary resource. Why do 400 kids at Longfellow mean something different than 400 kids at another school?”

Bryant said that she feels the district is suggesting that the Title I students at Longfellow are less in need because they attend a school in a more affluent area, or with wealthier students.

“True equity would be providing all students at Title I schools—the students who need the most support—with teacher-librarians who have the education and experience to serve them well,” she said.

Eftychiou, the LBUSD spokesperson, said that Longfellow’s SSC can still vote to fund a half-time teacher-librarian position with discretionary money, separately from the new policy’s allocation of a full-time media assistant.

“There are no specific librarian layoffs planned,” said Eftychiou via email. “As a matter of routine, the school district is re-examining its library staff allocation based upon need at specific schools. Also as a matter of routine, the school district provides notices each year to special contract employees (versus permanent ones), informing them that their position may be eliminated. Most of these positions usually remain intact, but the school district uses these notifications to preserve its flexibility on staffing and expenditures.”

Eftychiou said the district will continue to determine staffing levels for next year with individual schools, some of which may choose to use site-specific funding for additional library staffing.

“We’re maintaining a historically strong commitment to school libraries, and overall we’ll see more student access to libraries at most schools,” he said.

But district librarians speaking Wednesday disagreed, saying they feel pushed aside.

Glenda Culbertson is a teacher-librarian currently covering Tincher, Henry, and Carver elementary schools in the LBUSD, who gave an impassioned speech at last night’s board meeting.

“My middle school students who come from a media assistant know less about research and inquiry than the students I taught at Tincher,” she said, pointing to additional training from the district and state that teacher-librarians receive. “Replacing us with media assistants means more students will experience a learning loss. … Librarians support students and teachers because we co-plan, co-teach and co-assess student work. What is best for the child in the chair? Give them a teacher-librarian.”

Teresa Woolvett, the current teacher-librarian at Longfellow, echoed Culbertson’s comments.

“To me, equity means that every student has access to a teacher-librarian each week,” she said. “The new chart states it’s in alignment with the district’s ‘Excellence and Equity’ policy, but this chart leaves approximately 23 schools without a teacher-librarian.”

Bryant said she and other parents on Longfellow’s SSC felt misled after voting to fund Woolvett to be at the school full-time next year, only to be told by Longfellow’s principal that the new district policy doesn’t allocate any teacher-librarians to the school.

“Kids very much need informational and digital literacy,” said Bryant in an interview. “I don’t think that this act by the district is as blatant as the book banning that’s happening across the country, but I have no doubt that removing teacher-librarians from Title I schools is going to actively harm a generation of young readers in Long Beach.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that an LBUSD spokesperson declined to share specific information on how many schools could be impacted.

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