‘Age-appropriate’ school library bill heads for Tennessee governor

The Tennessee Legislature sends a school library bill to Governor Bill Lee’s office to review library materials for “age appropriateness”.

Along partisan lines, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives voted 73 to 21 Monday night to approve the Republican governor’s proposal after the measure was swiftly passed by the Senate last month.

The legislation would require each public school library to publish a list of materials in its collections and review them periodically to ensure they are “appropriate to the age and maturity level of students who may access the materials.”

A segregated school libraries bill, which could allow librarians to be charged with a criminal offense if ‘obscene’ material is found in a school’s collection, could be discussed in school committees on Wednesday. House and Senate education.

The review comes amid a national spike in challenges and book bans in school curricula and libraries, as well as bans on teaching about systemic racism.

In East Tennessee, the McMinn County School Board‘s decision in January to retire “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, has drawn international attention. And Tennessee was among the first states last year to enact a law banning K-12 teachers from discussing certain “dividing concepts,” particularly related to race and gender.

Lee’s proposal, dubbed the Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022, aims to standardize school library policies to require periodic reviews starting this fall. It would be up to each district to define what is considered age appropriate for their community.

The legislation also requires school boards to establish processes for receiving public feedback and removing books that do not meet this standard.

Most school libraries in Tennessee already have online search tools where parents and others can search for their content, but some do not, especially in smaller districts that do not have a dedicated librarian. for each school. All school libraries already have processes for reviewing book challenges.

Democrats have accused the bill’s changes of bypassing the expertise of librarians and unnecessarily consuming school boards with book challenges. They warned of the prospect of costly litigation over First Amendment rights that guarantee access to information.

“One way or another, we’ve been successful from the days of Andrew Jackson until now without this new administrative regime that you’re putting in place in every school district in the state,” the rep said. Nashville’s Mike Stewart.

Another Nashville Democrat, Rep. John Ray Clemmons, said age appropriateness is a subjective judgment that could create unequal access to materials between districts — or even within a single school.

“I am truly concerned about the limitation of information and access to knowledge and resources for our children to receive a full and appropriate education in our schools. It seems too vague,” Clemmons said.

But Rep. Scott Cepicky, introducing the governor’s bill, said the measure was intended to establish a review process, not ban the books.

“I have complete faith in our local school boards and the people who support them to make sure this process will happen in a seamless way,” said Cepicky, a Republican from Culleoka.

The other school library bill, sponsored by Cepicky and Senator Joey Hensley of Hohenwald, would prohibit any library from making “obscene material or material harmful to minors” available to students in school libraries. Some parents and school officials have claimed this is a problem in Tennessee, although the state’s professional association of school librarians says no obscene materials are in their collections.

The legislation, which has sparked contentious debates in House Criminal Justice Committees in recent weeks, would also remove the exemption currently protecting librarians and other school staff from being charged with a criminal offense for the presence of such documents in libraries. And it would require school officials to remove any disputed materials for at least 30 days until the local school board or charter school governing body can make a decision.

Marta W. Aldrich is senior correspondent and covers the Chalkbeat Tennessee State House. Contact her at [email protected]

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