Georgia schools targeted in battle over library books, online content

At the media/library learning commons at Daniell Middle School in Marietta, books are the property of the school. Funding for the Inchy Bookworm Vending Machine would provide an additional incentive for the students to practice the SWARM principles and earn points for rewards. The machine would hold about 20 books representative of the school's diverse population including those for low reader levels. Books chosen through Inchy would be the students.
Caption
At the media/library learning commons at Daniell Middle School in Marietta, books are the property of the school. Funding for the Inchy Bookworm Vending Machine would provide an additional incentive for the students to practice the SWARM principles and earn points for rewards. The machine would hold about 20 books representative of the school's diverse population including those for low reader levels. Books chosen through Inchy would be the students.

Credit: contribute

Credit: contribute

Georgia schools buffeted by controversy over critical race theory may soon face renewed challenges over gender, sex and other hot button topics as a national movement to remove “obscene” materials from libraries gains momentum in the state.

Georgia lawmakers previously considered tightening controls over such content. At least one prior bill would have placed school librarians at risk of criminal prosecution.

Now, with the issue roiling local schools, powerful Republicans say it will be a priority in the legislative session that starts in January.

Earlier this month, people at a Coweta County school board meeting said they were scouring schools for material they considered inappropriate, according to The Newnan Times-Herald. They reportedly said schools were guilty of “massive overreach” and that parents must “band together to take our schools back.”

It’s just one example of protests confronting schools nationally.

In Virginia’s Spotsylvania County, new school board members talked of banning and burning books with “sexually explicit” material. While in Wyoming’s Campbell County, people tried to get the local prosecutor to charge library employees criminally for making sex education and LGBTQ-themed books available to young people.

School librarians are confronting an avalanche of such demands.

“The volume of challenges that are coming in the last month and a half, two months, is unprecedented,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Titles that address gender issues and sexuality have been a target before but were eclipsed in 2020 when the killing of George Floyd spiked interest in race, she said. Now, they’re back.

One of the highest-ranking members of the Georgia House of Representatives says she will push to get anti-obscenity legislation approved.

“I share the advocates’ and parents’ concern,” Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones said in an interview. I also share the same goal, which is in the end children should be shielded from age inappropriate materials period, whether it’s in the classroom or increasingly out of the classroom.”

Jones said she is open to the idea of disciplining, though not necessarily prosecuting, educators who intentionally expose students to such material. Her main concern is the lack of uniformity in the way the state’s 180 school districts block student access to online sources.

“Most exposure’s unintentional,” said Jones, R-Milton. “There are some school systems that have weak filters and I think that needs to be addressed at the state level.”

State School Superintendent Richard Woods said through a spokesperson that he wants to work with Jones “to update and strengthen” outdated Georgia law.

Noelle Kahaian, director of the anti-obscenity group Protect Student Health Georgia, testified at the Georgia General Assembly last spring for legislation that would standardize and streamline the book-banning process.

“Parents are very trusting and they assume that the materials in their libraries are age appropriate and don’t contain sexualized materials,” Kahaian said in an interview.

During a legislative hearing last spring, Kahaian read a passage involving a rape scene. It was from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian classic assigned in a Roswell High School class. She was testifying for Senate Bill 226, which would later pass the Senate then stall in the Rules Committee of the House, where Jones has a seat.

Wendy Cornelisen, president of the Georgia Library Association, said the anti-obscenity movement challenges the judgment of librarians and teachers trained to make educational decisions about content.

“The concern is that it becomes a censorship issue and that it’s removing access for materials that have been selected by the professionals who work in the school,” she said.

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