Jakari Singleton, president of the "Picket Fence" group, has coordinated student protests outside Fryelands Elementary School in Monroe every morning and afternoon for the past two weeks.
Jakari Singleton, president of the "Picket Fence" group, has coordinated student protests outside Fryelands Elementary School in Monroe every morning and afternoon for the past two weeks.

Jakari Singleton picketed outside Fryelands Elementary School every morning and afternoon for weeks after he found out Mindy Burns may not be his librarian again next year.

The fifth-grader worried about who would teach students why it’s important not to plagiarize, how to write bibliographies and where to find books. Some days he stood on the sidewalk alone, holding his “Save The Librarians!!” sign. Others, he was surrounded by a dozen concerned peers. They call themselves the “Picket Fence Group.”

“I would hope they see that here are just a bunch of kids who care about librarians,” he said, as the group’s president, “and the school district will support us, so we didn’t spend the last two weeks out here for nothing.” 

In April, the Monroe School District announced the way libraries are run will change next year. Certified teacher-librarians will no longer oversee operations, other than at Monroe High School. They can either work in a classroom, or apply for a newly created part-time Digital Learning Teacher position.

The decision was made as a way to comply with Washington law that requires first- through eighth-graders to spend a minimum of 100 minutes each week in PE, according to the school district. Classes will be added in each elementary school. Shifts are also necessary to ensure new technology, digital literacy and citizenship standards are met.

“The current elementary school librarians have not been laid off and there will be no reduction in force,” according to the school district.

The school district states staffing will actually increase. A noncertified Library Specialist will help the Digital Learning Teacher run the libraries. The specialists will “support book circulation, share new books, read stories to student” and help organize reading events.

The school district states the spaces will be open before and after school. Kids can check out books during recess, and will have more access to library resources.

Jakari said he knows many students at his school who are upset by the changes. He said others don’t have an opinion either way, and some think it’s a good idea.

Hundreds of parents, students and staff attended Monday’s Monroe School Board meeting to protest. May wore red in solidarity.

Monroe Education Association president Shaerie Bruton said she could not accept the school district’s decision to transition out librarians. She said it violates contracts, where staff was promised access to modernizing professional training, she said.

“I promise you that did not happen — that did not happen,” she said.

Bruton handed the school board a stack of petitions signed by audience members and those who could not make it Monday. She said people came from around the state to offer support.  

Washington Education Association president Kim Mead was one of them. She said she has a grandchild who just entered the Monroe School District, which now concerns her. Librarians are a critical access point of support for students.

“When a kid doesn’t know where they fit in, they go into the library and find a place they belong,” she said.

A few people spoke on behalf of the masses at the meeting. MHS librarian Brian Saulsman said the decision was regressive, and eliminates a program proven to improve student performance, including standardized testing scores.

Saulsman also addressed frustrations about a school district social media post, which touts the importance of librarians, made right before this year’s February special election. MSD voters were asked to renew a replacement School Programs and Operations levy to offset what the state is not fully funding. Voters approved the levy.

The post appears to have been deleted. 

“You cannot in good conscience utilize the popularity of librarians for your needs and then get rid of them,” he said. “That creates mistrust.”

On its website the school district explains the state capped the amount that property values could be taxed, which is why it decreased by about half of what it is currently and that money isn’t available to help fund staffing.

The plan to makes shifts in the library program was part of a three-year process that included developing a new vision for the school district, said district spokesperson Tamara Krache. Input from the community showed a strong interest in making students ready for 21st century careers and choosing colleges that rely on skills with technology and digital platforms. Administrators are confident this is the best solution, she said.

Krache said the changes were discussed at multiple school board meetings this year (Edit: Krache now says they weren't). The school board will be giving a presentation at the May 29 meeting on the changes to the library program. She said the school district realizes information could have been better promoted to the community. 

“We know that our community values being actively involved in the learning process,” she said.

Singleton and his friends still hope the school district will reconsider. He said he was worried PE teachers will be asked to do too much. During Monday’s meeting he read a handwritten letter aloud to the board.

“I don’t want our librarians to leave because they help set our future with books,” he said. “...I ask you to do the right thing for the children — find another option.”