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SALT LAKE CITY — What kinds of books are — or aren't — allowed in Utah school libraries?
After months of deliberation surrounding a policy to determine what book titles are or aren't appropriate for school libraries, the Utah State Board of Education on Tuesday voted to approve a library materials model policy that aims to specify "the process for identifying materials to be included or disqualified from use in libraries and schools."
Specific directions of the policy include:
- Guidelines for who may file a sensitive materials review request and an example request form
- Guidelines for how a review committee is formed and when it must reach a determination
- The process for appealing a review committee decision
- An outline of the steps USBE will take if it is determined a district or charter school did not follow their outlined library policy and/or Utah law during the review process
"There was a lot of contemplation over this, certainly. Gathering feedback from, you know, different board members and them going to their constituents," said Kelsey James, board communications coordinator. "The big part was the board working with, obviously, the Legislature, making sure we were instituting HB374... and also the Office of the Attorney General, making sure that we are abiding by state and federal laws so that we can provide this guidance to (local education agencies)."
The responsibility for final book selection at school libraries rests with trained library personnel under the direction of the governing board of the respective local education agency using the following criteria, according to the policy:
- Overall purpose and educational significance
- Age and developmental appropriateness
- Timeliness and/or permanence
- Readability and accessibility for intended audience
- Artistic quality and literary style
- Reputation and significance of author, producer, and/or publisher
- Variety of format with efforts to incorporate emerging technologies
- Quality and value commensurate with cost and/or need
Additionally, a library materials review request of a book may only be made by a parent of a student that attends the school, a student who attends the school or an employee of the school.
The review process for a challenged book is a lengthy one (30 school days where possible and no longer than 60 school days), with the local education agency convening a review committee made up of administrators, teachers, librarians and parents to determine what should be done with the challenged book.
The review committee will then make a final determination — by majority vote — of a reviewed book as follows:
- Retained: the determination to maintain access in a school setting to the challenged material for all students.
- Restricted: the determination to restrict access in a school setting to the challenged material for certain students as determined by the Review Committee
- Removed: the determination to prohibit access in a school setting to the challenged material for all students.
After over two hours of deliberation and amendments to the policy, the board voted to approve the library materials model policy nearly unanimously with board member Natalie Cline casting the lone vote in opposition.
I am just one person on a board of 15, and the other members of the Board present at today's meeting decided to throw their efforts and their votes behind the Master Merged model policy, which doesn't require (local education agencies) to do a single thing to stop porn.
–Natalie Cline, state Board of Education member
In a statement posted to her Facebook page Tuesday, Cline thanked the "almost 500 parents and grandparents who wrote the Board and reached out to me hoping the Board would vote for a model policy that would actually prevent porn, in any form, in their children's schools."
"I am just one person on a board of 15, and the other members of the Board present at today's meeting decided to throw their efforts and their votes behind the Master Merged model policy, which doesn't require LEAs to do a single thing to stop porn," Cline said.
'Not about banning books'
The issue of what titles are available to students through their school libraries first came into question through parental outcry in November that led to nine titles being removed from library shelves in Canyons School District before six of the nine titles were returned to shelves in February.
"I have come across many videos on social media about sexually explicit books in our Utah school libraries, and in school libraries around the country," a Canyons School District parent wrote in an email obtained by KSL.com through a public records request. "I am asking that you will spend the time to review the videos below for inappropriate material. There are many more but it is exhausting mentally, watching and reviewing these books' content."
This contention picked up more steam as the conservative parent group Utah Parents United pushed more districts to remove titles that they said contained "pornographic or indecent material," and lobbied in support of HB374, a bill that bans "sensitive materials" and requires school districts to evaluate objectionable content in libraries or classrooms and report it to the Utah State Board of Education and, ultimately, the Utah Legislature.
This is not about banning books. It's about a good process for reviewing what books are appropriate in schools under the same standard already applied to students and other materials in our existing code.
–Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross
"Right now, our children are exposed to pornography in school libraries," said Nichole Mason, president of Utah Parents United. "They have unrestricted access to graphic pornographic novels that, really, are against the law."
The House Education Committee in February voted 11-2 to pass HB374 and the Legislature later approved the bill, which was signed by Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.
"This is not about banning books," Senate floor sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said on the final night of the legislative session. "It's about a good process for reviewing what books are appropriate in schools under the same standard already applied to students and other materials in our existing code."
'Disservice that affects the whole community'
Utah Alliance Coalition President Frank Brannan, at a rally last month in opposition to the policy proposed by board member Cline, described her proposed policy as "extreme," saying it "limits the diversity of library materials for students."
"Utah's educational system belongs to all of us," Brannan said. "Banning a book because it features a gay or transgender character or touches on difficult topics that impact real teens — like drug abuse, sexual assault and racism — does a disservice to all students, but worse, it alienates students who see elements of themselves and their lives in those themes and characters."
Unfortunately, diverse stories, people and themes make some people uneasy, and those books are the most challenged by parents. A lack of representation in library books and programs is a disservice that affects students, families and the whole community.
–Rita Christensen, president of the Utah Library Association
Librarians in Utah have argued that the outcry is an attempt to limit access to titles from diverse perspectives.
"Unfortunately, diverse stories, people and themes make some people uneasy, and those books are the most challenged by parents. A lack of representation in library books and programs is a disservice that affects students, families and the whole community," said Rita Christensen, president of the Utah Library Association.
Christensen said that removing books from circulation due to parental outcry sets a precedent "that one type of voice matters," and "that voice doesn't have to follow the rules, and that the voices of the marginalized have no place on library shelves. It erodes trust in libraries (and) it erodes democracy."
According to a release from the board, school districts and charter schools will now use the model policy to develop a systematic process and timeframe for reviewing all school library materials using a sensitive materials rubric to ensure compliance with Utah law.
Each district and charter school governing board should review and approve its own policy by the Sept. 1, 2022, deadline stated in board rule R277-628, the release said.