Lowell — Lowell Area Schools Board of Education Vice President Laurie Kuna has spent a lot of time lately standing up for books — and the right for students to have access to them.
From her seat on the board while discussing challenges to books in district libraries, Kuna, a retired Lowell High School English teacher, has continuously spoken in support of books and students’ right to read. She has also participated in multiple community events about censorship including panel presentations and discussions at bookstores and book club meetings.
Kuna and LAS Library Media Director Christine Beachler recently received awards from the Michigan Association of School Librarians, a professional organization including about 400 school librarians and educators representing hundreds of Michigan school districts, universities and educational programs. Beachler was named the 2023 District Library Director of the Year and Kuna, the 2023 Outstanding Board of Education Member.
“To me, it’s one of our fundamental freedoms. The First Amendment guarantees our right to free speech,” said Kuna, a 29-year teacher who retired in 2010 and was elected to the board in 2012. “That is fundamental to me as an English teacher. I’m also a published author … This is a public school too. We need to be a warehouse for all sorts of ideas and we need to be able to provide a broad range (of books) for kids.”
The district has faced two book challenges based on content parents or community members found objectionable. Along with these challenges have come heated personal attacks from community members, directed at Beachler at meetings and on social media.
For both book challenges in LAS, a district committee of seven read and reviewed content in the books. Both times the Board of Education voted, in March and May, to keep the challenged book in the library.
‘Parents always have the right to restrict access to a book for their own child, but don’t have that right for other people’s children.’— Christine Beachler, Lowell Area Schools librarian
Awarded for Advocacy
Beachler nominated Kuna for the MASL outstanding board member award, while Harry Coffill, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools’ library media specialist, nominated Beachler for the director of the year award.
In her nomination, Beachler cited Kuna’s advocacy work to dismantle censorship as a critical component of the district’s success in keeping books in the libraries.
“Laurie has been an unsung hero in defending students’ First Amendment rights and the biggest support for me, the library policies, and the literature that all students deserve to have access to in our school libraries,” Beachler wrote.
In nominating Beachler, Coffill wrote that the award recognizes what the librarian of 22 years does on a day-to-day basis, year after year, to maintain and grow library services as “a tireless champion for Lowell school libraries.”
“In a world that is constantly evolving, where information flows freely, and technology reshapes the landscape of knowledge dissemination, the role of a library director has never been more vital. It takes a visionary leader, a passionate advocate, and a tireless champion of literacy and community engagement to navigate the challenges and seize the opportunities of this ever-changing terrain,” Coffill said in the nomination.
Recently named 2024 president-elect for MASL, Beachler has served on multiple committees and boards across LAS and also works as an advocate and representative for West Michigan school libraries. She also recently received the KDL Literacy Champion of Kent County award.
According to the Kent District Library news article announcing Beachler as the winner after review from KDL’s Board of Trustees and Leadership Team, Beachler has advocated for students’ right to read what they choose with parental involvement ensuring that the library collection represents different cultures and viewpoints, so students can see themselves represented in the books.
Beachler’s job includes managing collections, employees and ensuring all students have books that reflect them or allow them to learn about people and places that are different from them and where they live. She continuously stresses that it’s vital the library offers something for all students.
Addressing book challenges, she has presented information at Board of Education meetings, shared policies, explained procedures, amassed information and answered questions. She’s also participated in book reviews of challenged books.
“Parents always have the right to restrict access to a book for their own child, but don’t have that right for other people’s children,” Beachler said.
“Every parent gets to choose for their kid. There’s no better compromise than that.”