HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Students at dozens of Houston ISD schools will return in a few weeks without librarians and to former libraries that have been converted into disciplinary spaces.
New Superintendent Mike Miles announced earlier this summer that librarian and media specialist positions would be eliminated at the 28 original schools being overhauled under his reform program, New Education System (NES). Both the librarian and media specialist positions are similar, but librarians typically have an advanced degree in library science.
HISD said the 57 additional schools that opted into NES will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
"We understand the significance of certain programs associated with libraries and will strive to maintain those valuable offerings," the statement said.
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The move is almost a complete 180 from Miles' predecessor, Millard House II, who aimed to put a librarian at every school under his former five-year plan. According to our partners at the Houston Chronicle, Miles said the decision partly comes from "prioritizing resources to meet specific outcomes, including closing the achievement gap, raising student proficiency, and preparing kids for the future."
Malaki Sims, an HISD parent, felt shocked when learning about the decision. Although his children are not enrolled at an NES school, he worries about the students who are.
"I think it's pretty ridiculous. When I grew up and went to the library, I needed direction on what I may have wanted to read or books I should've paid attention to based on my interest. The librarian's role is to guide you and help you improve your reading and comprehension skills," Sims said.
Deborah Hall spent about 40 years working for HISD. Now, she advocates for libraries and librarians as the co-founder of the Students Need Libraries organization. She recalls feeling stunned when hearing about the announcement.
"I just couldn't imagine that it could happen so quickly. I don't understand why this current administration doesn't see the value of libraries and what they do for literacy and reading," Hall said. "Libraries are much more than just books. It's about helping match the reader to the right book at the right time. By talking to the student, you can find a direction to meet their needs."
Former library spaces at some schools will be converted into rooms where students who misbehave will be relocated to watch lessons virtually, work alone, or in groups with differentiated lessons. Books will remain on shelves and students will still be able to borrow books on a honor code system.
"Libraries will be available to students who are dropped off at school before classes begin, or after school before they go home," according to HISD's statement. "Depending on each campus' needs, some library spaces may be repurposed into team centers, which are designed for students to continue working, individually or in teams, throughout the school day."
Advocates and parents who spoke to ABC13 shared why they believe it's a bad idea. Hall fears the elimination of library positions will widen the equity gap and have a detrimental effect on students who are already living in economically disadvantaged communities.
"It's sending an entirely wrong message. Five years from now, that student who was sent to the Zoom Room (former name for Team Center) in the library, may associate reading and libraries with a punishment," said Hall. "Closing libraries will increase inequity. Looking at one school with a library and a school without a library, it's not the same. These students with the library have a lot more advantage in their educational journey," said Hall.
According to HISD, employees whose positions were eliminated were given the opportunity to work at libraries at other non-NES campuses in the district.