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Some parents want action, but school guidance on Utah’s book ban law is still murky

Republican Speaker of the House Brad Wilson presiding in the Utah Legislature, Jan. 25, 2022.
Ivana Martinez
Republican Speaker of the House Brad Wilson presiding in the Utah Legislature, Jan. 25, 2022.

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson sent a letter to the Utah State Board of Education Wednesday to urge education officials to “take initiative” against school districts refusing to comply with a new state law banning “sensitive materials” in schools.

While not naming specific districts, Wilson told KUER that he’s received reports of schools knowingly disregarding the law as well as input from parents on whether certain materials are inappropriate and should be removed.

“When we have clearly pornographic materials in our school libraries, it needs to come out and it needs to come out quickly,” he said. ”This is not an imaginary issue.”

School districts have long had policies for how to address requests to review and remove materials. But the law sets new standards about what material is considered pornographic or indecent, according to a memo from the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.

The memo contradicted previous guidance from the Utah Attorney General. OLRGC also noted the AG’s office overstated U.S. Supreme Court precedent on when the removal of a book from a school library violates a student’s First Amendment rights.

Norman Emerson, president of the Utah Library Media Supervisors, said districts are working to update their policies to be in compliance with state law. Some had waited until more guidance was issued, including direction from USBE that is still forthcoming. In a letter addressed to Speaker Wilson, the board noted districts are already required to have a reconsideration process for library materials but also said it is working toward creating a “model policy” that can be used as a template.

In his role, Emerson said he doesn’t know of any librarians actively disregarding the new law.

“There's a little bit of nervousness because some of it's a little bit new,” he said. “From what I've seen, there certainly is an effort to be responsive, open-minded and to take a look at these concerns seriously.”

The recent concern over inappropriate materials in Utah schools has led to a spike in book challenges. Where normally a district might receive just a few challenges a year, the Granite District alone has seen 36 across its schools. Titles include books like "Last Night at the Telegraph Club," "The Bluest Eye” and “Kite Runner.”

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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