Feb 20, 2024 - Politics

Washington state pushes back on book bans

Illustration of a book as the bottom of a padlock.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats in Washington state want to pass a law this year that would slow conservative efforts to ban books in local classrooms and school libraries.

Why it matters: The push in Washington's Legislature follows a nationwide wave of attempts from the political right to limit what kids can read — often targeting works written by or about LGBTQ people and people of color.

By the numbers: Across the country, attempts to ban books reached a record high in 2022, with at least 17 occurring in Washington, according to an American Library Association database.

  • Washington saw at least another seven challenges to books or course materials during the first eight months of 2023, the organization said.

The big picture: California and Illinois have already passed laws to try to limit book bans, according to the association's tracker of so-called "right to read" legislation.

  • More than a dozen other states are considering similar measures.

Details: Under the Washington proposal, school officials couldn't ban library books or course materials solely because the material focuses on protected classes, such as Black, Hispanic, Indigenous or LGBTQ people.

  • The bill would also block challenges from people who don't have students in the district.
  • Even if a parent's challenge of course material is successful, school officials could choose to provide an alternative just for those parents' children, rather than changing the curriculum for all students.
  • Schools would have to try to resolve complaints at the school level to reduce the number of debates over broad, districtwide bans.

What they're saying: "This bill seeks to ensure that students have access to inclusive texts, libraries and stories," said state Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), the prime sponsor of the measure, during a recent House floor debate.

  • That's important so students of all backgrounds can find books they can relate to, as well as to ensure schools can "teach the truth" about history, "whether it be inspiring or shameful," she told a House committee last month.

The other side: House Republicans, who are in the minority, universally voted against the bill.

  • During the debate, state Rep. Alex Ybarra (R-Quincy) said he thinks school boards should be allowed to make local decisions about books and curricula without a new state-mandated process.
  • State Rep. Skyler Rude (R-Walla Walla) said he supports the anti-discrimination aims of the measure, but still thinks some books with sexual content aren't appropriate.
  • "It doesn't matter if that act is happening between somebody who is part of a protected class or not — it's about the inappropriate material that is sexually explicit," Rude said on the House floor.

What's next: The bill passed the state House along party lines earlier this month, but still must pass the state Senate, which is also controlled by Democrats.


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