The Utah State Board of Education finally decided on a new policy addressing the kind of books that can be read in public classrooms, after months of discussion on the topic. The newly developed “library materials model policy” provides comprehensive direction for the kind of resources that should be included in collections as well as how to address concerns over particular works.
The policy was created, updated, and voted on in accordance with Utah’s new HB 0374, which was officially signed into law at the end of the month of March and is titled “Sensitive Materials in Schools.” Even though librarians will have the last say in what resources are bought for their collections, all proposed acquisitions must first be approved by the governing board of the local educational organization. Items will be judged by the following criteria:
Overall purpose and educational significance
Age and developmental appropriateness
A sense of contemporaneity and/or permanency
Readability and ease of access for the target audience
Excellence in the arts and literary etiquette
Notoriety and importance of the writer, producer, or publisher, if applicable
Several formats, with efforts made to include newer technological developments
The quality and value should be proportional to the amount spent or the requirements.
In addition, recommendations for challenging content have been included in the new law. Because of the efforts of organizations like Utah Parents United, Utah has been one of the most permissive states when it comes to censorship. These organizations have developed a wealth of resources for parents all over the state, giving them information such as book titles to look up in their school library catalogs and how to approach the school with complaints.
The new standards for challenges stipulate that the person lodging a complaint must be either a parent or a student at the school, or an employee at the school, in order for the investigation of the complaint to take place over a longer period of time. The local educational agency will appoint a review committee consisting of teachers, librarians, and parents to assess whether or not the content in question is suitable once it has been disputed. This process can take anywhere from 30 to 60 school days.
It should come as no surprise that this new measure is being hailed as a victory by parents and campaigners on the political right. It is a triumph for Utah Parents United, who maintain that it has nothing to do with restricting access to literature.
When the same organization tweets a list of books that are now being banned from Alpine School District and refers to it as “a great win,” it is difficult to understand how this is not about banning books. In the next weeks, the school district will no longer have access to the books that are on this list.
The majority of the works on this list are written by or about LGBT people of color, although some are about people of color in general. It is anyone’s guess as to what makes them improper given that the decision of appropriateness now rests in the hands of committees that have been created on a local level. It’s possible that in certain school districts it’s absolutely OK for students to read books that discuss the repercussions of things like sexual assault or the aftermath of a school shooting. The following step may involve the removal and disposal of such books due to their improper content.
The work of educators and librarians in Utah will be damaged by politics rather than professional qualifications as a result of the new guidelines that have been issued in the state. This bodes badly for the upcoming school year. A decision quite similar to this one was reached in April by the Texas Education Association, and just this week, the Central Bucks School District in Pennsylvania established one of the most stringent procedures for the purchase of books for library collections anywhere in the United States.