SC librarian group’s president resigns after split with education department over book bans

The president of South Carolina’s Association of School Librarians has resigned after the state Department of Education cut ties with the group.

Michelle Spires resigned Thursday after state education superintendent Ellen Weaver ended the 50-year partnership with the group in a letter, accusing it of creating a “hostile environment” and taking a political stance by opposing efforts to remove books from schools.

“While the decision to step down as President of the SCASL has not been easy, it is a decision that I have made to put the well-being of my family and myself first. I am still committed to the work that SCASL does and will continue to support the organization and its members; however, I am unable to fulfill the role that is needed as the leader the organization,” Spires wrote in a statement that was provided to The State.

The news was first broken by the Carolina News and Reporter, a newsroom run by students at the University of South Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Diane Ervin, the executive secretary of the librarian association and a past president, confirmed that Spires’ resignation was directly linked to Weaver’s decision to end the partnership between the two organizations.

But in her resignation, Spires made no reference to the split, expressing gratitude for the opportunities she had gained through the librarian’s association and urging librarians across the state to continue their support for the organization.

“South Carolina has phenomenal librarians across the state who are committed to the needs of their students,” Spires wrote. “I am proud to be amongst those school librarians in our state and will continue to support SCASL in the days, weeks, and years to come.”

The State has reached out to the Department of Education for comment.

Tamara Cox, a former president of the library group, is now acting president through the school year’s end, according to the News and Reporter.

Cox told the News and Reporter that Weaver’s decision to sever the relationship came without warning as the two organizations had been in the middle of planning a joint event for October.

“That letter was the first correspondence we had about (Weaver cutting ties),” Cox told the News and Observer. “We have been communicating with her staff in the Department of Education all year. We have chosen the venues, chosen the dates, lined up speakers and sponsors and lunch and all that stuff working with her staff.”

In a letter sent to the librarian association on Aug. 25, Weaver said the organization had shown a “lack of discernment” on the issue of censoring books.

As reasons for the split, Weaver cited an advocacy toolkit on the group’s website from the American Library Association, testimony about library “censorship” before the teacher recruitment and retention task force, and a letter sent to school board members that “extensively quoted politicized rhetoric from a New York school district employee.”

“It is my sincere hope that in the future, SCASL will come to recognize and value the role of parents in directing the content of their children’s education and cease the use of hyperbolic rhetoric that politicizes these important issues,” Weaver wrote in her letter.

South Carolina was one of the five states in the country with the highest instances of book bans from 2022 to 2023, according to PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for the free expression in literature and the arts.

Weaver, a Republican and the former state director for then U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, is in her first year as the superintended of education succeeding Molly Spearman, also a Republican, who didn’t seek re-election.

she ran on a platform that emphasized parental rights and school choice, as well as emphasizing literacy and math skills and improving access for special needs students.

Her campaign attracted controversy when it emerged that she entered the race without masters degree, a requirement for the Superintendent of Education position. She ultimately obtained a masters degree in educational leadership from Bob Jones University in October just weeks before the election, having completed the 33-credit program in just six months.

This unusual arrangement drew criticism and scrutiny from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to Bob Jones University, a private evangelical university in Greenville.

The school defended the unusual arrangement. Last fall, BJU chief of staff Randy Page was quoted as saying “we would do for any student what we have done for her.”

The program, which lists a two-year course schedule on its web page, advertises that graduates will be “equipped with a well-rounded education from a biblical worldview that will benefit and guide you for years to come.”