Democratic lawmakers in the Colorado state legislature have introduced a bill that would change how challenges to school library books and materials operate in order to curtail book bans based on racial and/or LGBTQ content.
Senate Bill 049, cosponsored by Democratic state Sens. Lisa Cutter and Chris Kolker, as well as Democratic state Reps. Junie Joseph and Eliza Hamrick, would require school districts across the state to establish for themselves a process for challenging school library materials. Each district must have a committee to consider challenges, the bill stipulates, which will be comprised of individuals selected by the school district’s superintendent.
“A library should not compromise the learning opportunities of others by precluding them from using a library resource unless pursuant to a reconsideration process,” the text of the bill reads. “Therefore, it is in the best interest of Coloradans to provide library resource removal standards and establish a process for a person to object to a library resource in a library.”
The proposal limits who can actually challenge materials and the reasons they can do so. Only students and the parents of students in a district — not other community members or outside groups — can object to materials. While parents can stipulate that the district bar their children from accessing materials that they personally disapprove of, they cannot force the district to block access to those materials altogether until the committee comes to a decision. Crucially, materials that are being challenged must remain on the shelves while that process is playing out.
The bill explicitly forbids the exclusion of materials based on “the ethnic origin, ethnic background or gender identity” of authors. Materials also cannot be banned because of “partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”
If passed into law, the bill would likely stave off a multitude of challenges Colorado schools could face in the near future. Preliminary data from the American Library Association (ALA) found that, within Colorado, 136 titles were challenged in the first eight months of last year. LGBTQ content was targeted the most, according to the Colorado Department of Education’s Library Research Service.
The bill aims to limit how such titles can be challenged in the future in order to prevent books from being banned solely because they include LGBTQ or racial representation.
“Taken together, this is a solid piece of legislation that would not only keep the power of decisions about materials left to their respective professionals, but it would safeguard future attempts at censorship by ensuring that elected officials do not have more power than those who are professionals in those institutions,” said Kelly Jensen, a former librarian and a blogger at Book Riot.
The proposal has a good chance of passing, as both houses of the state legislature are controlled by Democrats. Gov. Jared Polis, also a Democrat, would likely sign the bill into law, as he has expressed disdain for library book bans in the past.
The bill is scheduled for a legislative hearing early next week.
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