Georgia schools targeted in battle for library books, online content

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

School librarians face an avalanche of such demands.

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

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

One of the highest-ranking members of Georgia’s House of Representatives says she will push for approved anti-obscene legislation.

“I share the concerns of lawyers and parents,” spokesman Tem Jan Jones said in an interview. I also share the same goal, which is ultimately that children should be protected from a period of age-inappropriate materials, whether it is in the classroom or increasingly out of the classroom. ”

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

“Most exposures are 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Superintendent Richard Woods said through a spokesman that he wants to work with Jones “to update and strengthen” outdated Georgia law.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 ban process.

“Parents are very confident and they assume that the materials in their libraries are age-appropriate and do not contain sexualized material,” Kahaian said in an interview.

During a hearing last spring, Kahaian read a passage that involved a rape scene. It was from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian classic assigned to a class at Roswell High School. She testified before Senate Bill 226, which would later pass the Senate and then stall in Parliament’s Rules Committee, where Jones sits.

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

“The concern is that it will be a matter of censorship and that it will remove access to materials selected by the professionals working at the school,” she said.

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