Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s School Library Bill Authorizes Senate Committee

A new school library law backed by Gov. Bill Lee cleared the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, as attempts to restrict materials available to schools continue across Tennessee.

The legislation is dubbed the “Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022”. It would require school districts to maintain an up-to-date list of all materials available to students and establish a procedure to “periodically review each school’s library collection to ensure that the library collection of the school contains materials appropriate to the age and maturity level of students who can access the material, and which is appropriate and consistent with the educational mission of the school.”

Lee first announced the library proposal during his annual State of the State Address on Jan. 31.

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The push — a softer effort than some legislation proposed this year, such as a bill by Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, that would ban “obscene materials” from public school libraries — comes as districts navigate the debate of state and sometimes remove titles from curricula and classrooms.

A McMinn County school board made international news after removing Art Spiegelman‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning Holocaust graphic novel ‘Maus’ from its eighth grade curriculum and a Blount County school board has withdrawn “Dragonwings”, a 1975 historical novel by Laurence Yep about Chinese immigrants from his college curriculum.

Students at the Antioch High School Media Center on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022 in Antioch, Tennessee.  Some Tennessee lawmakers want parents to know what materials are available in school libraries and classrooms after ongoing controversies and attempts to restrict the books available to students in schools.

But the legislation supported by Lee does not define what is considered age-appropriate or how a school district is supposed to determine it.

“It’s a decision that’s up to the local governing body and the local school board,” Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said when pressed by Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, during of the Senate Education Committee meeting on Wednesday.

Johnson said the legislation was intended to provide flexibility to each local school district, but Akbari wondered how the state could ensure the same guidelines were used.

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Johnson, who is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate, represents parts of Williamson County where the school district conducted a months-long review of its elementary curriculum books and ultimately recommended removing one, “Walk Two Moons,” from Sharon Creek.

Books like these seen here are among the titles that have been challenged by school districts in Tennessee.

“I’m all about giving discretion to locals, but is it really creating a cohesive process if there’s so much wiggle room between what they do?” Akbari asked.

Akbari was the only senator to vote against the bill.

Many districts have existing policies on how school library materials are chosen and procedures for parents who are concerned about a library book or school material.

School standards and curricula are vetted and approved at the state level before being adopted by local school boards.

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Meghan Mangrum covers education for the USA TODAY Network – Tennessee. Contact her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.

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