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Removing school library textbooks may violate the rights of students under the First Amendment

Removing school library textbooks may violate the rights of students under the First Amendment

The Supreme Court has long recognized that students have their own rights under the first amendment to the school.

Removing books from school libraries because some parent groups and individuals in Utah have pushed local school boards and administrators to do what they deem inappropriate content this school year “may be a formal suppression of ideas in violation of the First Amendment.” , says a new note sent to schools by the Utah Attorney General’s Office.

The memo summarizes current statutes and judicial legislation as district and statutory school boards work to develop or update their library policies and procedures following requests for schools to remove books or other materials that some believe are ageless or contain harmful materials.

The Utah Board of Education continues to work on draft policies designed to provide county and statutory school boards with a foundation for creating or updating their policies. The Law and Licensing Council Committee came to a standstill with several proposals during its meeting late last week and referred the matter to the full council. The next regular meeting of the council will take place on June 2, and no meeting is expected in July.

Meanwhile, school districts are working to ensure that their practices and policies are consistent HB374, authored by Ken Ivory’s representative, R-West Jordan, and adopted during the 2022 session. Legislation defines some teaching materials as “sensitive materials” and prohibits them in schools. It also requires schools to include parents who “reflect the school community” when determining whether teaching material is confidential.

The law also requires the state school board, in consultation with the Utah Attorney General, to provide guidance and training to local schools on identifying confidential material.

Addressing the Committee on Law and Licensing, Ivory reminded members that lawmakers, with the consent of the governor, said pornography posed a danger to public health. “I think we should all be involved in ensuring that these consequences of public health and harm to society do not suffer our children, that we do not put them at risk of this harm,” he said.

He called on the council to “comply with legislative intent” HB374. If that doesn’t happen, “we just need to prescribe more at the legislative level,” Ivory said.

Carol Lear, chair of the Committee on Law and Licensing, said the council’s work on model policy continues.

The Utah Attorney General’s Note, which represents the school board, is “useful in reminding schools that there are laws and lawsuits that must be followed when preserving or removing books from school libraries. Students’ rights to access some library books and materials under the First Amendment cannot be resolved by a majority vote of parents at the school, ”Lear said.

A memo from Attorney General Ashley Bill in the education department of the office was compiled by the Assistant Attorney General.

“I am Malala” is pictured at the Skyline High School Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. The Utah Board of Education is working on a policy designed to provide school boards with a framework for creating or updating policy libraries.

Menshin Lin, Deseret News

Memo quotes Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Districtin which the Supreme Court reviewed a ban on the Iowa State School District on allowing students to wear black armbands to protest America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

In a 1969 decision, judges concluded that students and teachers did not “violate their constitutional rights to freedom of expression or expression at the school gates.”

The case notes: “Close protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more important than in the American school community.”

While other case law stipulates that local school boards have broad powers to manage school affairs, “such freedom must be exercised in a manner consistent with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment. … (T) The special characteristics of the school library make this environment particularly suitable for the recognition of such rights ”.

The note goes on to say that the Supreme Court stated that “students should always remain free to question, study and evaluate in order to acquire new maturity and understanding.”

The High Court called the school library “the main place of such freedom,” the note said.

Ben Horsley said the Granite County School has for years received a fairly stable number of requests to remove books or other materials from schools, but after the adoption of the Utah Legislature HB374 there has been a noticeable increase.

Horsley said Granite officials “want to get their (AG and State Council) understanding because we have 32 books that have recently been requested for review,” he said.


Nandhini Ramanathan, Jr. at Skyline High School, is doing her homework at the Skyline High School Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 10, 2022. framework for creating or updating library policies.

Menshin Lin, Deseret News

The granite area has “a robust process that involves parents as part of that process. But we are obviously, in the light of HB374 and these new instructions from the AG office and state council, considering how to re-equip it, ”Horsley said.

Horsley said the Granite School District is very diverse, and “we want to make sure we meet or give opportunities to every student.”

At the same time, the school district will comply with state law and its own policy, which requires materials to be suitable for minors, he said.

Late last year, Canyon County School received requests to remove nine books from school libraries. In January, the district implemented its updated “Library Library Media Selection and Review” policy, district spokesman Jeff Haney said.

“We quickly moved on to this fall to respond to our community. At the time, we felt and continue to feel that this is not a problem that can be relegated to the background. We needed a clear, strong policy, and we believe we have achieved that, ”he said.

Although the county has an updated policy, the AG note was “instructive,” he said.

When visitors were asked to remove nine titles from Canyon District school libraries, the district suspended the distribution of titles until the policy was updated. The books were then evaluated according to criteria set out in the new policy.

“The titles“ Gawn Boy ”and“ Gender Queer ”were removed from the catalogs, either because they were“ weeded out ”as part of the usual selection process conducted by librarians, or because they were checked by students and never returned. “Lolita was also tested by students and never returned,” Haney said.

The “L8R G8R” was selected during the review and removed from area catalogs, he said.

After reviews by librarian teachers, the catalogs will retain the titles: “Out of Darkness”, “The Bluest Eye”, “Monday Will Not Be”, “Against the Innocent” and “Behind the Purple”.

Teachers-librarians are currently reviewing six other books in response to public inquiries about reviewing under the new policy, he said.

In addition to case law, the memo includes state statutes that define materials harmful to minors.

“Harmful to minors” means the quality of any description or representation, in any form, of nudity, sexual behavior, sexual arousal or sadomasochistic violence, if it:

  1. in general, calls for a happy interest in the sex of minors;
  2. is clearly offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole as to what material is appropriate for minors; and
  3. in general, it is not serious for minors, ”the note reads.

The memo states that the book must meet all three factors to be considered harmful to minors.

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