Orange Unified School District brought back its digital library, Sora, after temporarily suspending the app following concerns of age inappropriate books being available to younger students.
“The intent was to pause the availability of the app to our students to protect them from content not appropriate for their age group while we determined what caused such content to be available,” Interim Superintendent Edward Velasquez said in a message Friday.
Hana Brake, Communications Coordinator for the District, confirmed through email Monday that the Sora was accessible to students once again.
One of the issues on the app was that four books had been improperly classified to the wrong grade levels. Another was that uncategorized accounts had access to all levels of content, according to Velasquez.
He said the digital library would be accessible to students once again and that the books were reassigned to the correct grade level and other issues were addressed.
“With these adjustments, we feel that our students are protected from content beyond their respective grade levels, and the Sora app will be reinstated by Monday, February 6,” the message reads. “No books have been removed. They have been reclassified as grade-level appropriate.”
[Read: Orange School District Suspends Digital Library Over Book Concerns From Some Parents]
Velasquez is recommending that a committee be formed to review app content before they are installed on student devices.
“Who is included and how this is handled is something I will leave for the next Superintendent to determine,” he wrote in the message.
The decision to suspend the app sparked pushback and concern from some parents worried the move was a form of censorship and that it would limit book access to low-income students in the district.
They spoke out at the board’s Feb. 2 meeting including Beth Cipres – a district parent and library media technician at Esplanade Elementary School in Orange Unified.
Cipres said the move interrupted student learning and hurt economically disadvantaged students the most.
“We don’t shut down the library when a book is mishelved,” she said. “Cutting off access to this valuable resource takes away the platform that levels the playing field.”
“This sudden suspension with less than 24 hours notice disrupts student learning and teacher planning. Mid assignment students have been cut off from their books,” she continued.
According to Ed Data, in the 2020-21 school year there were 12,904 low-income students enrolled in the district. That year 28,000 students were enrolled.
Following the comments from Cipres and others, Velasquez said at the meeting the app would return.
Velasquez’s appointment as an interim and the firing of the former superintendent over winter break by a newly elected board majority in the district has also sparked backlash from some parents, students and teachers.
[Read: Did Orange Unified School Officials Improperly Replace Their Superintendent]
On Jan. 29, Velasquez announced in an email the suspension of the app – one of his first actions as interim superintendent.
The announcement came after two parents at their Jan. 19 district board meeting raised concerns of age inappropriate books being available to their second grade children on the app.
Following the comments, Trustee Jose Ortega called for a suspension of the app with support from board president Rick Ledesma – even though a discussion on shutting down the app was not on the agenda or put up for a vote.
“In terms of shutting down an app – that was never voted on by us,” said Trustee Kris Erickson at the Feb. 2 meeting. “I think we need to set the guidelines on whether or not staff can shut it down without a vote.”
One of the books called out was “The Music of What Happens” – a novel aimed at young adults details a sexual assault against a character and a relationship between two high school boys.
David Lane, assistant director of client services in the district’s information technology department, said at the Feb. 2 meeting the book was checked out 10 times by students in the middle and high school level and from one account at the elementary level multiple times.
He also said there were two complaints made about the Sora app since 2014 – one in October 2022 and one last month.
A report on Sora and other apps on student devices is expected to come back to the board in March.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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