Education

A Wichita school dumped books in the trash, and neighbors want to know why

Lynette Evans of Wichita snapped this photo of a trash bin outside Woodland Elementary School, where she said someone had trashed about 100 books.
Lynette Evans of Wichita snapped this photo of a trash bin outside Woodland Elementary School, where she said someone had trashed about 100 books. Courtesy photo

A trash container filled with books outside a Wichita elementary school had several nearby residents wondering why the school didn't donate or recycle the materials.

Lynette Evans was walking her two dogs near Woodland Elementary School in North Riverside on Friday morning when she spotted a large trash container filled with "about 100 books," she said, including dictionaries, math textbooks, educational games and books about the U.S. Constitution.

"I was kind of concerned, because it's summertime and there's kids around here that might like some books to read or even just to color in," Evans said. "It didn't seem right."

Evans took a photo of the container and posted it on a neighborhood Facebook page. Within minutes, dozens of people had commented on the post, angry that the books had been trashed rather than sold, donated or recycled.

Another nearby resident, Lisa Aguilera, said she noticed the books while delivering copies of a neighborhood newsletter Friday morning and immediately grabbed several out of the trash bin. She retrieved picture books, activity books and leveled readers, she said, including "Stellaluna," "Farmer Duck," "A Meanies Party," "When the King Rides By" and "Animals of Africa."

A school employee came outside while Aguilera was grabbing another armload of books and, "I was asked to leave the property," she said.

"I left and didn't say anything, because I wanted to be nice," she said. "But it's extremely frustrating. . . . Those books are just sitting there in the trash, and we have so many Little Free Libraries and other literacy programs out here that could use them.

"The sad thing is, I bet this isn't the only school where this is happening. If they get new materials and have to get rid of the old ones, I bet there are lots of other schools with dumpsters full of books."

Susan Arensman, spokeswoman for the Wichita district, said "there was a miscommunication" that resulted in some used and outdated books being placed in the Woodland Elementary trash bin.

"They have been removed from the dumpster and placed in recycling bins or removed so they can be properly discarded following our district protocol," Arensman said in an email Friday afternoon. "The majority of the items were from teachers' personal collections and not district items."

Old books were sold at the end of the school year "and also put on the free table at the school's library for students to pick up," Arensman said. "The books that were recycled were ones that no one wanted."

A Wichita district policy outlines a procedure for the disposal of textbooks, library books and other reading materials. The building principal and the supervisor of library media and textbook services are responsible for disposing of no-longer-used books, the policy says.

According to the policy, old textbooks and library books should first be offered to students for 25 cents apiece, with the proceeds benefiting the school's activity fund.

After that, "obsolete textbooks and workbooks shall be stacked, unboxed, near the dock entrance," the policy says. The district solicits bids from book companies for used textbooks and library materials, and the winning bidder "will also be responsible for disposing of supplemental and library books," it says.

In December, the Wichita school board approved a seven-year, $5.8 million deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to purchase Journeys, a new reading and writing curriculum for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The program will replace a patchwork language arts curriculum in Wichita elementary schools that includes Treasures, which was adopted more than a decade ago.

Aguilera, the North Riverside resident, said she understands that schools or teachers may have a hard time unloading large numbers of unwanted books. But she's angry that she was told not to retrieve them from the trash because "they were out-of-date and no longer met state standards."

She managed to grab about 40 books, she said, and plans to leave them at several Little Free Libraries in the neighborhood.

"I'm not trying to teach the current curriculum with these books," she said. "I was trying to give to those in need."

Where to donate books

Need to get rid of unwanted books? Here are a few options:

  • PRo Kansas Miller Recycling Center, 725 E. Clark, a nonprofit organization, accepts a wide variety of materials, including books and magazines. Check the group's website — www.recyclewichita.org — or call 316-269-1359 for hours of operation. (Books in decent condition are placed in "Gordon's Book Nook" in one corner of the recycling center and are free for the taking.)

  • The Friends of the Wichita Public Library accepts many categories of gently used books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, as long as they are clean, dry and mold-free. For more information about what the group accepts and how to drop off donations, call 316-261-8500. (Note: The group is on a brief hiatus while the Central Branch library moves to its new location, which opens June 16.)

  • Book-A-Holic, a used bookstore with three locations in Wichita, is a great place to take gently used books for sale or trade. The store at Parklane Shopping Center, 924 S. Oliver, has a collection bin outside where you can drop unwanted books.
  • Local thrift stores and charities, including Goodwill Industries and Disabled American Veterans stores, also accept books.

The Advanced Learning Library is getting the books from the old downtown library moved over currently as they get ready for their grand opening June 16.

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