Tennessee librarians worry about textbook legislation

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WTVF) – The House passed a bill Monday that would allow school boards to deem books “obscene” and threaten to withhold education funding. It can also punish school librarians with criminal penalties if the order to remove them is not followed.

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

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

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

“These are the processes we’re going to go in to make sure our kids have books that relate to their curriculum, as well as them and our world, as we’re trying to build global citizens,” Long said.

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

“I’ll say there’s always been something where books have been banned or challenged, right? But right now we’re in a place where it’s becoming more focused, unlike what there was in the past,” Long said.

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

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

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

If school officials fail to comply with the process, the state commissioner for education may temporarily withhold state funding.

Governor Bill Lee also signed a bill this week that allows parents and guardians to see what’s in a school library so they can determine if the material is appropriate for their child’s age.

“While that’s 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 in that school community,” Long said.

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