School Library Bill Advances, Sponsor Suggests Burning Books | New Policies

By KIMBERLEE KRUESI, Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Republicans on Wednesday proposed legislation that would pay more attention to books placed in public school libraries, moments after the bill’s sponsor said any inappropriate books should be burned.

The measure is just one of several proposals introduced in Tennessee this year, designed to impose more control and transparency on public school libraries amid a national spike in protests and book bans. School librarians have become the target of scorn from Republican lawmakers who are pushing for greater scrutiny of materials provided to children — especially those touching on racism and LGBTQ issues.

Republican Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station introduced a last-minute amendment to a school bill this week that would give the state’s textbook commission — made up of politically appointed members — a veto over textbooks. books that end up on the shelves of school libraries. . Schools should provide the board with a list of their library materials.

Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville asked Sexton what he would do with the books deemed inappropriate.

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“Are you going to put them in the street? Set them on fire? Where are they going?” asked Clemons.

“I have no idea, but I would burn them,” Sexton said on the floor of the house.

He later amended what he said on the floor to note that he was not a member of the textbook commission and did not believe a book burning was likely to occur.

Earlier this year, Sexton lambasted librarians at a legislative hearing that included testimony from some who alleged without proof that educators were trying to “groom” children with sexually explicit material found in libraries.

“I don’t appreciate what’s going on in our libraries, what’s being put in front of our children and shame on you for putting it there,” Sexton said at the time.

Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville said the legislation targeting libraries is taking “Tennessee in a dangerous direction.”

Librarians have countered throughout this debate that schools already have policies in place allowing parents and educators to review school library books. They point to the need for better resources and possibly the addition of a state library coordinator to promote literacy and education across the state — something the General Assembly advanced this year.

The Republican-majority House approved the bill 66 to 26, but time is running out in the 2022 legislative session. The GOP-controlled Senate has advanced a separate version that would simply ask the textbook commission to provide library advice to schools.

The book ban thrust Tennessee into the national spotlight recently after a rural school board in McMinn County voted unanimously to remove “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, from the district curriculum. Meanwhile, in Williamson County, an affluent area just south of Nashville, school board members agreed to remove “Walk Two Moons” – a book that describes a Native American girl’s search for her mother – after parents have complained about it.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has also fueled that debate, targeting school libraries in a speech earlier this year and introducing his own legislation that he said would ensure students consume “age-appropriate” content. The bill, which Lee has since signed into law, requires school libraries to post their content online and regularly review their policies to ensure the material is “age-appropriate” and “appropriate” for the children in it. access.

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