As the new school year kicks off — or is already in progress in many places — it’s worth taking a look at the states which have enacted laws that ban books. This guide is not comprehensive, but gives an overview of the legislation currently on the books that will impact how teachers and librarians select and share reading material in classrooms and libraries.
Before diving it, it is worth noting these are all “red” states. It is a popular and unhelpful narrative to simply write off these laws because of where they are being enacted. In many of these states, there is significant disenfranchisement of voters in addition to laws which make voting harder than it needs to be; this ensures a certain political persuasion remains in power. These systemic barriers to voting are the same ones which need to be considered in arguments that the people who can’t get these books from libraries thanks to these laws can “just get them at the bookstore.” We are in the business of dismantling hurdles, not leaving them where they are.
Further, as we’ve seen through these censorship roundups over the past year+, it does not matter where or how book bans begin. They trickle through each and every state in varying degrees, and what you see here could become models for future legislation elsewhere. Finally, writing off certain states does not help in ending book bans. Everyone, regardless of political affiliation or state of residence, deserves the right to access books, reading material, and information they want to. Fighting fire with fire helps no one.
Note that this list is not comprehensive. I’ve pulled out some of the biggest laws in several states that are having an immediate impact and that will likely influence further legislation within and beyond their jurisdictions.
Book Ban Bills Currently Enacted Across the US
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At least two bills in Florida are allowing for sweeping changes to books in schools and libraries. The first, House Bill 1467, gives more space for parental input and feedback on books and materials used in schools, including listing all the titles in classrooms and libraries. Oversight in approving materials now must go through several hoops, creating a tremendous backlog in acquiring and using new, up-to-date, and timely material.
Florida’s House Bill 1557, known as the Parental Rights in Education Bill or the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, curtails discussion of gender or sexual identity in public schools. The bill, purposefully vague, has created a chilling effect on what materials may or may not be used or discussed in schools and school libraries.
Effective this school year is Senate Bill 775 which limits reading materials in schools, public or private. Books deemed “sexually explicit” are illegal. Those who make them available will be charged with a class A misdemeanor, which could lead to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
House Bill 1775, which bans “Critical Race Theory” from classrooms, has been used not only to remove books by and about people of color from classrooms, but is creating loopholes for politicians to seek the removal of queer books as well. While Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 1142 never made it past the Senate, it has created a flurry of fear among educators; that bill threatened that parents who disliked a book could file a complaint and were the complaint not addressed within 30 days, there could be a $10,000 per day penalty.
Effective in November, House Bill 3702 will deeply impact the access students (and adults) have to online databases, including those which house ebooks. The bill says any vendor who is unable to certify they do not allow access to “obscene materials” or “pornography” cannot be licensed; public schools and public libraries would need to annually report to the state about compliance. Of course, the lack of specificity in the bill means that any complaint could mean revoking access to information for anyone who uses such databases.
If you have not yet seen the above viral TikTok of a Tennessee teacher in her classroom during unpaid time, you should. This is an example of how new educational laws are harming not just students, but educators who are preparing for the new year.
The Senate Bill 2407/House Bill 2154 is what the above teacher is referencing, wherein it is now required all teachers have a full catalog of every book available in their classrooms for parents to access. Teachers need to give those lists to their school librarian who will then compare those to approved and unapproved materials lists created by…someone…to determine whether or not they’re appropriate for the classroom. The bill suggests that “someone” is a board of education, but even that is not entirely clear. What is clear is those boards are being impacted by right-wing interests eager to pursue their own agendas, rather than putting what’s best for students and educators at the forefront (Related, Tennessee is the same state that plans on appointing public library boards through local politicians, further undermining professional knowledge, judgment, and ethics from those working in schools and libraries).
Senate Bill 2292 redefines “obscene materials,” ensuring that anything deemed obscene may be removed from educational institutions. This means anything that was once seen as educational is no longer considered educational if it meets the flimsy and unclear definition of “obscene” or “pornography.” It includes provisions that follow those in Oklahoma which will change access to online materials including databases and ebooks if any material contained within them are “inappropriate.”
Texas has been among the quickest to make creative interpretations of “obscenity” and has been a leader in pushing for book bans. Matt Krause’s infamous request that schools remove over 850 books was followed quickly by the Texas Education Association’s draft for collection development that creates space for “parental input” in books across the state. Now, as current Governor Greg Abbott pushes to keep his role as governor, he’s unveiled a proposal for stronger “parental rights” across the state. It has not yet been put to the legislature, but it is part of his campaign. You can see the entire proposal here; it would give parents far more rights to determine what is an is not appropriate in schools and libraries and would certainly mimic Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
House Bill 374, known as the Sensitive Materials in Schools bill, prohibits “sensitive” material in schools. The bill allows the state’s Attorney General to instruct education workers about what is and is not sensitive material and provides a mechanism for parents to file formal complaints about school material. The Attorney General’s guidance on this bill has been updated twice, and the most recent guidelines tells districts they need to remove material deemed “sexually explicit” and/or “pornography” (defined by nebulous state statutes) immediately.
How to track bills in your own jurisdiction
You have the ability to track similar bills in your own state in at least two ways. The first is to subscribe to the newsletters and social media accounts of your local state representatives and the second is to do periodic searches of House and Senate bills in your state.
To search for bills in your own state, head to your state legislative tracker. It is called something different everywhere. In Illinois, for example, it’s the Illinois General Assembly website. This gives status updates of all legislation from introduction and first readings through it being enacted or vetoed, and it’s possible to search by bill number or keyword. You can also use a source like OpenStates to search for legislation in your state, as well as to seek out your local representatives.
Once you find where updates on legislation live, then you want to do a periodic search of several keywords. I would recommend doing these monthly if your state is not currently moving a bill through as fast as possible (the above states, for example, might be worth searching more frequently). Among some of the key words to search:
- Parental Rights / Parents Rights (you will pick up legislation related to family matters, so know this going in)
- Obscenity, pornography, sexuality, sexually explicit
- Comprehensive Sex Education
- Critical Race Theory
- Social Emotional Learning
- Sensitive Materials
This will get you most of the bills being discussed. Obviously, this is not comprehensive, but if you pull words or phrases from the above-listed bills and/or through the news pieces you read about censorship, you’ll be able to add to this list. If your state has the option to peruse the legislative committees, look through the education committee’s work. This gives you both a sense of what’s being worked on and will help you find further key words to search.
If you see a bill that, as you read, is clearly a censorship bill, this is when you write a letter to your representative in opposition. There are templates you can use, though writing from your heart as someone who believes in access to books for all is more than enough. In some states, when a bill is being voted on, you may be able to submit a witness slip (your approval or opposition).
You might also be able to find state-based groups tracking legislation related to censorship and education. In Illinois, for example, the Witness Slip Facebook group — which is public — is a tremendous resource for staying abreast of what’s happening.
Book Censorship News: August 26, 2022
First, this week, Fox News posted the three-step action plan for parents in the coming school year. I’ve tweeted the screen shots and am embedding below. I share this as context to what you should anticipate seeing in book censorship news for the next few months (at least). It’s a reminder to anyone working in public education or libraries to not share anything in writing you do not want pulled through a Freedom of Information Request Act.
How F0X is telling parents to behave this schl year.
1. The laws in the first step have always been around, so this is a fabrication leading to misinformation.
2. FOIAs. Do not put a thing in writing you don’t want on a billboard.
3. Cops. Expect more police reports on books. pic.twitter.com/k17fGjmvbE
— Buttered Jorts (fka kelly jensen) (@veronikellymars) August 24, 2022
- Collierville Schools in Tennessee has pulled over 300 books from school libraries. Nearly all of them are LGBTQ+.
- An English teacher in Norman Public Schools (OK) gave students a QR code that allowed access to the Brooklyn Public Library’s free censored books. She was suspended and has left her position.
- In Bonners Ferry, Idaho, right-wing conservatives are demanding the removal of 400 titles, most of which are not even in the library. This same library drove their director to resignation last week.
- Several Pennsylvania Congress members have sent a letter to the governor and state secretary of education demanding an investigation into books at schools in the states. The book they use as an example is Gender Queer, and letters like this are where above-listed laws get their start.
- “A Katy ISD police officer temporarily removed a copy of a book from a high school library last month as part of an investigation after a woman filed a criminal complaint alleging the district was providing “harmful” material to minors.” The book was Flamer.
- Several of the books Rapid City Area Schools (SD) never allowed to make it to the classroom are now “missing.”
- Fort Bend ISD in Texas has removed Gender Queer.
- Books that were deemed inappropriate in Forsyth County, Georgia, last school year may be able to go back on the shelves.
- For all that Moms For Liberty claims they speak on behalf of all parents, only about 160 parents in Polk County schools (FL), a district serving 110,000, decided to opt their students out of controversial books. #Winning?
- “Out of the nearly 100 people who testified in-person Wednesday or submitted comments to the board directly, just 15 demanded these books be pulled from shelves.” This is in Meridian Public Library (Idaho). Of course, the loudest and most ill informed individuals are not the majority.
- In Chiliwack schools (British Columbia, Canada), some school trustees are suggesting that filing police reports against fellow trustees who support queer books is a solid solution.
- “”It’s actually being taught in school…and it’s being sanctioned by ‘porn peddlers,’” said one parent, referring to Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence.” It was a productive meeting at the Virginia Beach, Virginia, school board. The rhetoric they use isn’t even interesting. It’s cut-and-paste.
- The Mead, Washington, school board member who suggested banning critical race theory and books on gender identity did not think it would be a big deal.
- A city council member in St. Marys, Kansas, wants the public library to remove LGBTQ+ books.
- “Before the end of the 2021-22 school year, the district’s Media and Technology Advisory Committee reviewed eight of the 24 challenged books. Three of the eight books were removed from middle school libraries.” This is Catawba County Schools in North Carolina. The pastor believes that books in schools go against the rights of born-again Christians.
- There’s a group in Dayton, Washington, trying to get books removed from their public library.
- A former US Senate Candidate in Nebraska talked on a radio show this week about inappropriate books in school libraries, to which Kearney School District responded by saying they serve a whole community and will not be removing the titles they own. All of the books are LGBTQ+.
- Students speak up in support of the librarian in Belton Middle School (TX) who has been under fire and told to remove her banned books display. Censoring censorship.
- The graphic novel edition of Anne Frank’s Diary is back in Keller ISD (TX). Now if the same kind of outcry could get the rest of the books pulled by the right-wing board back in schools.
- A broad overview of censorship in Connecticut and what to anticipate in the coming year.
- In Sarasota, Florida, a judge has thrown out a lawsuit over inappropriate books like The Bluest Eye and How to Be an Antiracist.
- Meanwhile, the same Sarasota School District has rejected the annual dictionary donation it receives due to DeSantis’s new laws.
- ““I don’t know who is in charge of our libraries, how books get in there, or who checks them, but this is just not appropriate,” Karen Flack said.” That would be the problem, Karen. This is Stillwater, Oklahoma.
- Hancock Public Schools in Michigan are still talking about the pros and cons of a Pride display being removed in the library.
- Gender Queer and It’s Perfectly Normal are under fire in Buxton, Maine, schools.
This week, I was a guest on PBS’s News Hour, talking about book censorship and why school board elections are a big deal. You can watch the 7 minute segment here.
- Defending the Right to Read: Book Censorship News, August 19, 2022
- How To Find and Develop a Local Anti-Censorship Group: Book Censorship News, August 12, 2022
- A Template for Talking with School and Library Boards About Book Bans: Book Censorship News, August 5, 2022
- The School Board Project, Round Two: Book Censorship News, July 29, 2022
- What Would Help You Fight Book Bans?: Book Censorship News, July 22, 2022
- How to Address Misinformation and Book Challenges: Book Censorship News, July 15, 2022
- Protect Yourself Now: Book Censorship News, July 8, 2022
- How To Directly Impact Democracy: Book Censorship News, July 1, 2022
- Librarian Vandalizes 2 Public Libraries, Spray Painting “Groomers”: Book Censorship News, June 24, 2022