Tennessee House Advances Textbook Review Bill | National policy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Tennessee House on Monday passed a bill that allows school boards to deem books “obscene” and threatens to withhold education funding and slap criminal penalties on school librarians if orders to remove them are not tracked.

The 63-24 House vote shifts the action from the Republican-dominated legislature to the Senate, where the fate of the bill is less certain after multiple delays in committee.

The bill would amend an exception under state law that does not put people with scientific, educational, governmental, or other justification at risk of criminal charges for knowingly distributing obscene material to a minor. The bill would only remove the exception for K-12 public schools, their workers and their contractors.

If someone disobeys the school board’s directive to remove a book, they could face a Class A misdemeanor or a Class E felony if someone repeatedly fails to comply.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Scott Cepicky, argued that the bill aims to “protect our librarians and prevent the arbitrary removal of a book from a school library” by outlining a process for removing books. .

The bill allows parents of students to report to school officials material in a school library that they consider obscene or harmful to minors, both as defined in state law. The principal of that school must then remove that material from the library for at least 30 days to allow the school board to review it.

Subsequently, the school board would then decide whether to permanently withdraw the material or return it to the school libraries.

If school officials do not comply with the process, the Tennessee Commissioner of Education can temporarily suspend state funding.

Challenges and book bans are on the rise in Tennessee and the United States, as advocates call for greater examination of the ideas and concepts taught to students, especially regarding racism, sexuality and genre.

Republicans have introduced several bills on the subject. Earlier this month, lawmakers and parents hurled insults at librarians while discussing a proposal.

Many of those who testified before the legislative panel repeated unfounded claims that librarians who championed certain controversial works of literature were helping children to “prepare” children to desensitize themselves to sexual abuse and pornography. Librarians and other education advocates deny the claims, countering that policies are already in place to allow parents to view library materials.

A handful of Republican lawmakers have conceded the arguments recently used to condemn teachers and libraries had crossed a line.

On Monday, Rep. Eddie Mannis, Tennessee’s only openly gay Republican state legislator, opposed the bill, echoing concerns expressed by many Democrats. He noted the existing teacher shortages and said he didn’t want to pass laws telling them “we don’t trust you”.

“I’m just concerned that this legislation could be used to subjectively weed out educational material that people wrongly deem harmful or offensive strictly because of their own personal biases or prejudices,” the Knoxville lawmaker said.

Senate President Randy McNally was among Republicans who said they were uncomfortable with comparisons between teachers and librarians.

McNally pointed to action already taken on legislation backed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee that would require school libraries to post their content online and regularly review their policies to ensure material is “age-appropriate.” and “suitable” for children. to access. Lawmakers have already passed and Lee has already signed this bill.

Tennessee recently gained international attention when a rural school board in McMinn County voted unanimously to delete “Maus”, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel on the Holocaust, from the district program. Around the same time, wealthy members of the Williamson County School Board agreed to withdraw ‘Walk Two Moons’ – a book that describes a Native American girl’s search for her mother – after receiving complaints from parents .

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