Georgia House passes bill to change the way books are banned in schools

Georgia Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, in the Senate Chamber last year. The state House passed an amended version of his Senate Bill 226, to change the process for banning books in schools, on Friday March 25, 2022. It returns to the Senate for final adoption. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Georgia Sen. Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, in the Senate Chamber last year. The state House passed an amended version of his Senate Bill 226, to change the process for banning books in schools, on Friday March 25, 2022. It returns to the Senate for final adoption. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Legislation that would require principals rather than librarians to decide which books should be banned from schools passed the Georgia House on Friday.

Senate Bill 226 would expedite the process for removing books and other content seen as “harmful to minors.” The 97-61 vote returns the bill to the Senate for final adoption.

The Georgia Library Media Association, which represents school librarians, opposes the bill, noting that schools are already required to have a process to address book complaints.

But some parents think the process isn’t good enough, leaving obscene materials on the shelves. They’ve challenged works such as the “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian classic assigned in a Fulton County high school class.

The conflict over books is a national phenomenon that has spilled over into Georgia school board meetings. Forsyth County Schools removed eight books from library shelves in January, including some with LGBTQ content.

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Aryani Duppada, 17, has been going to school board meetings in Forsyth to push back against parents who want to ban books, particularly those that address gender identity or race.

“I don’t see a problem with these books being in our libraries,” the high school senior said. “Even something that has explicit content can always be found somewhere else. It’s not just going to go away.”

Currently, objections are handled by school committees that include librarians. The new process would place the decision with school principals or someone they assign.

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Principals would have seven business days to decide whether to remove the material, and 10 business days to inform the complainant of the decision. The school board would then have 30 calendar days to decide any appeal.

Were the board to decline to remove the material, it would have 15 business days to post the title of the work on its website for one year. The version adopted by the Senate last year would have required schools to post passages or pictures from challenged works online for four years.

That was a House amendment that requires consent of the Senate.

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The change disappointed one group of parents that has lobbied for a crackdown.

“It’s not doing anything to remove obscenity at the state level or pornographic material or erotica,” said Melissa Jackson, Georgia president of No Left Turn in Education. “It’s just an appeal process. So you’re kind of at the mercy of the schools to say whether or not they’re going to remove it and so far most of the appeals at the school district level have not passed.”

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On the House floor Friday, Republicans cast SB 226 as a transparency bill that would expose the “degrading-type material” on school library shelves, as state Rep. James Burchett, R-Waycross, put it.

Democrats characterized it as censorship legislation aimed at books by people of color addressing empowerment of people of color, gay or transgender people and others who are oppressed.

“This bill is exactly about that, asking us to be quiet,” said Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta.