Tennessee librarians concerned with legislation on school books

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Posted at 5:19 PM, Mar 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-30 20:24:53-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The House passed a bill Monday that lets school boards deem books “obscene," and threatens to withhold education funding. It could also slap school librarians with criminal penalties if orders to remove books aren't followed.

The bill would amend an exception under state law that doesn't put people with a scientific, educational, governmental or other similar justification at risk of criminal charges for knowingly distributing obscene material to a minor.

The bill would only remove the exception for public K-12 schools, their workers and their contractors.

Erika Long has been a certified school librarian for eight years in Tennessee, making sure students have the materials they need to succeed.

"These are the processes that we go to to make sure that our kids have books that relate to their curriculum, but also relate to them and our world because we are trying to build global citizens," Long said.

Long — a current member and past president of the Tennessee Library Association — said she never thought her job would become the center of the debate.

"I will say that there's always been this thing where books have been banned or challenged, right? But right now we're in a place where it's becoming more targeted, as opposed to what has been in the past," said Long.

The legislation allows parents or guardians of students to report to school officials about material in a school library they consider obscene or harmful to minors, both as defined in state law.

The leader of that school must then remove that material from the library for at least 30 days to allow the school board to review it.

The school board would then decide to remove the material permanently or return it to school libraries.

If school officials don't comply with the process, then the state education commissioner can temporarily withhold state funding.

Gov. Bill Lee also signed a bill into law this week allowing parents and guardians to see what's in a school library so they can determine if the material is age-appropriate for their child.

"While that is definitely their choice, and they're right. It doesn't feel right for them to take that choice away from every other student, every other parent that's in that school community," Long said.