Aug 29, 2022 - News

Utah schools are adopting new book-banning procedures

Illustration of a stack of books with barbed wire wrapped around them.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Book-banning protocols still haven't been formalized in most schools, despite new state rules requiring districts to create policies to handle complaints.

Why it matters: District officials can unilaterally act on — or ignore — any complaint about a book as long as they don't have a review policy in place.

  • Alpine School District, the state's largest, with 83,000 students, temporarily put 52 books under restriction this month. The books previously had been removed entirely.
  • The restricted books include a Caldecott Medal winner; books by renowned authors like Judy Blume and Jodi Picoult; and more than 20 featured LGBTQ+ characters or themes, according to the free speech group PEN America.

Catch up quick: This year, lawmakers banned "sensitive materials" from schools and required districts to include parents in deciding whether an item is acceptable.

Details: To decide what counts as "sensitive material," the new law points schools to existing statutes that define "pornographic or indecent material" for children.

  • Those statues also say materials are OK if they have "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors, taking into consideration the ages of all minors who could be exposed to the material."

The latest: The state school board in July passed a "model policy" that calls for schools to require parental permission for the materials while complaints are under review.

  • It calls for complaints to be reviewed by a committee where parents outnumber educators.
  • Only students, parents and employees at that school could trigger a review — in contrast to the Canyons district's decision last year to pull nine books from schools that none of the complainant's children attended.

Yes, but: The "model policy" is only a recommendation. Schools may devise their own review policies as long as they comply with the new state law and are provided to the state by Oct. 1, state school board spokesperson Kelsey James told Axios.

The bottom line: Schools are no longer allowed to ignore complaints — and they now have to actively explain to lawmakers their decision to keep any book that someone targets.


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