ASHLAND, Va. (WRIC) — The Hanover County School Board voted 4-3 not to remove a children’s poetry book from the two public school libraries where it can be checked out.

After a impassioned debate between school board members, the board voted to keep the children’s illustration book, “A Place Inside of Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart,” in the poetry section of two school libraries in the county.

The poem is about a young Black boy’s experiences following the death of a Black woman who was fatally shot by police. It is not used in the classroom, instead only available for checkout in two county schools.

The board met Tuesday night for several agenda items, including to “consider an appeal to a challenge of instructional materials.”

“I was moved by this book,” a speaker at Tuesday’s meeting who said she her father was in law enforcement. “It’s about feelings we’ve all experienced. How is this bad?”

The book, written by Zetta Elliott and illustrated by Noa Denmon, won the Randolph Caldecott Medal in 2021 for its illustration. The challenge to the book comes amid a recent rise in book challenges and bans in the country.

PEN America, an organization made up of “more than 7,500 novelists, journalists, nonfiction writers, editors, poets, essayists, playwrights, publishers, translators, agents, and other writing professionals, as well as devoted readers and supporters,” issued a report in April that found 1,586 instances of individual books being banned in U.S. schools from July 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022.

Texas had the most in that span, 713 bans in 16 districts, and Virginia had 16 bans in seven district, according to the report.

According to Hanover’s School Board’s policy, learning materials “whether basal, supplemental, or library materials, may be challenged by any parent or guardian of a Hanover County Public Schools student, Hanover County Public Schools employee, or Hanover County resident.”

Hanover County Public Schools has four levels of review for book and instructional material challenges: 

  • Level One, Conference with Principal 
  • Level Two, Local School Review Committee
  • Level Three, HCPS Instructional Material Review Committee (IMRC) 
  • Level Four, School Board Review

The local review committee reviews the complaint and shares its decision on the challenge with the district superintendent. The superintendent can convene the IMRC if the complainant seeks an appeal and wants another review.

According to the policy, the School Board will review complaints about books when the division superintendent:

  • indicates a need for change in the School Board policy
  • the complaints seem to represent fairly widespread concern in the community
  • the challenge raises substantive questions about the adequacy of any phase of the educational program
  • The complaints are of such magnitude as to cause undue damage to the image or reputation of the schools

Any action taken by the School Board is final and remains in effect for four years. “After this time the material may be reconsidered following selection policy guidelines,” the policy reads.

The complainant has seven days to appeal “any decisions of the division Superintendent to the School Board” and the review will include all materials from the other three levels of the process.

The recommendation to the school board was to keep the poetry book in the libraries, a plan that some board members challenged.

School Board Member Robert May, the South Anna District representative, said he felt the book belonged in the school district but not available for “kindergarteners and first-graders.” He suggested a plan to make it only available to those in the fourth grade or above.

Correction: An earlier version of this report stated that Mr. May voted against the recommendation. The board members who did were John F. Axselle III, Beaverdam District, Steven Ikenberry, Cold Harbor District and George E. Sutton, Henry District.