Nashville, Tenn. ( Associated Press) — Tennessee Republicans advanced legislation Wednesday that would conduct more investigations into what books are kept in public school libraries, a bill House sponsor said should any inappropriate book be burned.
The measure is one of several proposals introduced in Tennessee this year designed to enforce greater scrutiny and transparency in public school libraries amid a national spike in book challenges and restrictions. School librarians have become the target of pressure by Republican lawmakers for more surveillance of the material they provide to children – especially those that touch on racism and LGBTQ issues.
Republican Representative Jerry Sexton of Bean Station this week introduced a last-minute amendment to a school bill that would give the state’s textbook commission — which is made up of politically appointed members — about what books end up on school library shelves. But veto power. Schools must submit a list of their library materials to the Commission.
Nashville Democratic Representative John Ray Clemons asked Sexton what he would do with books he deemed inappropriate.
“You’re going to put them in the street? Set them on fire? Where are they going?” Clemons asked.
“I don’t have a clue, but I’ll burn them,” said Sexton on the floor of the House.
Later, he amended what he had said on the floor to note that he was not a member of the Textbook Commission and did not think there was a possibility of burning a book.
Earlier this year, Sexton rebuked librarians during a legislative hearing that included testimony from some people who alleged without evidence that teachers were trying to “groom” children with sexually explicit material found in libraries. were trying.
Sexton said at the time, “I don’t appreciate what’s happening in our libraries, what’s being put in front of our kids and shame on you for putting it there.”
Democratic Representative Gloria Johnson of Knoxville said legislation aimed at libraries “is taking Tennessee in a dangerous direction.”
Librarians have countered the whole debate that schools already have policies in place for parents and teachers to review school library books. They emphasize the need for better resources and possibly adding a state library coordinator to promote literacy and education across the state – which the General Assembly has taken forward this year.
The Republican-supermajority House approved the bill in a 66-26 vote, but time is running short in the 2022 legislative session. The GOP-controlled Senate has developed a different version that would direct the Textbook Commission to provide library guidance to schools.
The book ban recently put Tennessee in the national spotlight 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’s curriculum. . Meanwhile, in Williamson County, an affluent area south of Nashville, school board members agreed to remove “Walk to Moons”—a book depicting an American Indian girl’s search for her mother—by parents. After complaining about it.
Republican Governor Bill Lee has also fueled the debate, targeting school libraries and introducing his own legislation in a speech earlier this year, which he said would ensure students consume “age-appropriate” content. . The bill, which Lee signed into law, requires school libraries to post their content online and regularly review their policies to ensure that the content is “age-appropriate” and “appropriate” for those students. Reaching children.