Mandatory process proposed to review complaints about school library books
Last updated 2/2/2024 at 11:04am
A mandatory process to guide school districts should be required when protests erupt over books that deal candidly with sexual preferences and gender identity.
While proponents of that position argue a policy is crucial to protect LGBTQ+ authors, critics call the idea government overreach and argue "kids'' are the only class that needs protecting.
HB 2331, now being debated in the state Legislature, prevents school districts from rejecting or censoring educational materials associated with protected classes. Additionally, the bill requires librarians to maintain culturally diverse books in their collections.
In Washington state, a majority of schools adhere to a 'model policy' for reviewing books when objections are raised. Initially, a teacher or librarian is consulted regarding a book. If a parent objects to a book, alternative material is provided for their child. If resolution isn't achieved at the classroom level, the next step is the principal's intervention. Should the matter remain unresolved, the book undergoes review by an instructional materials committee (IMC), which is appointed by the school board. The committee makes the final call.
Under the proposed bill, districts without an IMC would be mandated to form one. Members of the IMC would be appointed by the school district's chief administrative officer with approval from the school board. The committee must consist of professional staff from the district, and, at the school board's discretion, can include parents.
The primary sponsor of the bill, Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said she believes an organized and politicized political movement is pushing to restrict the options for readers in schools. The necessity of this bill, according to Stonier, is that this "model policy," is not always followed when evaluating the appropriateness of a book.
Since 2021, the number of books that have been banned or challenged saw an exponential increase, according to the American Library Association.
"Limiting texts has historically and unequivocally been used to stifle the facts of history and socially elevate a narrower or limited perspective as a tool to control the thoughts and actions of people," Stonier said. "We cannot prepare our next generation for the local and global challenges we face if we do not teach the truth, whether it be inspiring or shameful."
Librarian advocates Justin McKaughan, Carolyn Logue, and Sarah Logan testified in favor of the bill. Enduring years of attacks, they've been frontline defenders against complaints about instructional materials and now seek an end to targeting books.
They say they curate age-appropriate reading materials so children see their identities reflected in what they read. They believe this bill could shield vulnerable students and foster greater engagement in school.
"We know that fascism starts when you start pulling stuff off the shelves," McKaughan said.
How schools select books is an historically significant issue and garners considerable attention. On this bill alone, 1,143 individuals signed in to testify, with 350 in support and 788 in opposition.
The main objections to books in libraries revolve around sexual content.
Concerned citizens from across Washington state said books like "Gender Queer," "Flamer," and "This Book Is Gay," cross the line. The books contain explicit depictions of sex acts, including those involving adults and minors.
In 2021, "Gender Queer," became the most banned book in the country. Schools across the country removed this book from their shelves with some labeling it pornographic. It is a graphic memoir about adolescence and gender identity that features a handful of drawings depicting nude characters and various sexual scenarios.
Sarah Garriott, a concerned mother, said thousands of families have exited Washington state public schools, especially during the pandemic. Enrollment has dropped by over 60,000 students, with 60% failing to meet math standards and 50% unable to read at grade level. She contends that this "politically driven legislation" will drive more families away from public education.
"Trying to slip pornography into our children's education at a state level under the guise of trying to protect the LGBTQ community is disingenuous and should outrage and insult every caring gay adult who cares about the innocence of children," Garriott said.
Sharon Damoff, a concerned mother, urged the Legislature to reject the bill due to its emphasis on protected classes. She recalls reading Oscar Wilde in high school not because he was gay but because he was a "funny, brilliant, and insightful writer."
"We should focus on excellent work not the box someone checks because that is a limiting and childish way to look at people," Damoff said.
Opponents of the bill also say laws already exist against discrimination in all public schools across the state. They question the need for legislation to protect specific classes and are uncertain about its potential impact.
Stonier said if there is sexual content in a book that a parent does not want their child to read, that request should be honored. She believes parents have legitimate concerns about books their children read and this bill does not take away their rights. But she added:
"The value and contribution of our LGBTQIA authors and young readers is under attack, and I am here to say we see you," Stonier said.
If passed, this bill takes effect at the start of the 2025-26 school year.