Explicit book access in school libraries faces a reckoning

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(The Center Square) – Sexually explicit books in school libraries make many parents uncomfortable, but some educators say policies that limit access for students are ineffective, at best.

Still, local officials want guidance from the state about how to allay concerns over books available to children, some as young as sixth grade, that depict or describe graphic sexual acts, incest and pedophilia.

“What I have found is that if we had a starting point to work from … I couldn’t even tell you how many hours as a board trying to figure out how to move forward,” said Emily Zimmerman, a parent and board member in Warwick School District in Lancaster County.

Zimmerman made the comments during a Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday where she spoke in favor of legislation that would require parental permission before a student could check out sexually explicit books.

But critics, including the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, said the policy creates unnecessary paperwork, especially considering school librarians already screen titles and are willing to honor parents’ wishes regarding which books their children can read. Fifty districts don’t employ licensed librarians needed “to do the work” or keep track of which parents have given permission, they added.

Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lititz, said his proposal tries to “thread the needle” between the two factions, and rejected criticism that claims the bill’s language bans books, targets LGBTQ or minority communities or “censors anyone.”

“Any suggestion otherwise is frankly absurd,” he said.

The existing screening process may have been sufficient in the past, Aument said, before books began offering oral sex demonstrations.

Legislative Democrats remain unconvinced, arguing that the unintended consequences of the legislation raise costs and lead the state down a slippery slope of censorship.

The governor’s administration was involved in bill negotiations, Aument said, but ultimately “walked away.”

The committee approved the bill along party lines on Wednesday and it now awaits full consideration in the Senate.

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