How Utah School Districts Deal With Library Book Challenges

When the president of the Alpine School District Board of Education recently informed Utah legislators that police had been summoned to a school library to investigate a report that someone was allegedly distributing pornography to children, the committee chair apparently surprised, he asked for clarification.

“Are you telling your school library?” asked Rep. Lowry Snow, a Santa Clara Republican and co-chair of the Utah Legislature’s Interim Committee on Education.

“Yes,” said board chairman Mark Clement.

“Law enforcement?” Snow asked.

“Yes,” Clement said. The experience scared school librarians and “made them less effective,” he said.

Clement continued: “School librarians are trained professionals. They are not trying to sell pornography to students.”

Clement said that prior to the passage of HB374, the Alpine School District had an existing process “that worked very well.” When a student went to a librarian, “they would suggest books that were appropriate to that student’s values ​​and emotional needs.”

If a parent does not want their child to access certain materials, they can contact a librarian.

Since the passage of HB374, sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, the school board developed 11 drafts of a new district-level policy before adopting one in late September, Clement said.

Alpine School District Superintendent Shane Farnsworth said parents informed the school district via email about the titles they perceived as inappropriate. The district conducted an internal review and identified 52 titles that warranted further evaluation.

It brought together 25 district committees made up of school patrons and employees to conduct the reviews. Community members outnumbered educators, she said.

49 of 52 titles have been reviewed. Among them, 22 were withdrawn from school libraries, 18 are available with parental permission or if age-appropriate for the reader, and nine were kept, Farnsworth said.

Clement said that a valuable aspect of the discussion and policy development is that the school district takes a closer look at the books it receives from publishers. “That part of our policy has been very valuable in terms of helping us prevent books that would violate community standards from hitting the shelves,” she said.

“But I hope you realize that there’s also been a big downside in terms of teachers feeling like they’re not trusted or labeled as promoting pornography, when really what they’re trying to do is help students.” kids,” Clement said.

As some patrons have pushed for the removal of the books, the ACLU of Utah has also reached out to the school district expressing concern about the removal of books without going through a careful process that protects people’s rights, he said.

Some committee members questioned school district officials about why school districts have taken so long to make decisions about books.

Although lawmakers approved HB374 in March, it went into effect a couple of months later. Meanwhile, the Utah State Board of Education worked to develop a model policy and the Utah Attorney General’s Office provided legal guidance to districts to help them develop their own policies.

Davis School District Assistant Superintendent Logan Toone said that since the school board adopted its policy in September, the district has assembled 13 committees made up of parents, educators and others to review 44 books. Eleven books have been reviewed in the last two weeks, he said.

“Now that the pre-work is done, I wonder if you have an estimated amount of time that you think those standing functional committees will be able to review the books that you have.” asked Senator Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan.

“I don’t know the answer to that question, but it will be quick,” Toone said.

Sen. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, said schools are busy and “this is now something that has been added to our plate and it’s taking a long time.”

But the process must be deliberate because while some parents want certain titles removed from school libraries, others want their children to have access to a diverse range of literature, he said.

“I appreciate the time and energy you put into reading these books because if we don’t take the time and follow the process correctly, we are putting ourselves in jeopardy from lawsuits coming the other way. It’s really hard and I appreciate the time and effort that all of our school districts and our state school board have put in to make sure that we thread this needle correctly,” said Riebe, who is a public school teacher.

Park City High School student Jackson Smith told the committee that focusing on content, ostensibly to protect students, restricts their access to marginalized voices.

“Hundreds of books, ranging from debates on topics like gender equality and LGBTQIA+ representation, have been pulled from shelves. Topics about race, which often discuss the inequalities of not being white, are quickly removed so as not to offend parents,” she said.

“Schools should teach us how to think, not what to think,” he added.

Sen. John Johnson, R-North Ogden, said state law requires that school materials that meet the bright line test must be removed from school collections immediately if the text describes or depicts illicit sex or sexual immorality and does not has serious value to minors. .

Johnson said he can see why educators would be a little scared “given that the new law actually describes exactly what pornography is and it is a felony in the state of Utah for someone to distribute pornography to children. So the bright line rule is really important.”

Books that don’t cross that line can be examined for literary value, said Johnson, co-chair of the Interim Committee on Education.

“But when there is pornography inside the book, that is clearly identified in the statute. Those books really need to be out ASAP,” Johnson said.

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