Tennessee lawmakers this week passed SB2247/HB2666, a bill that critics say will give partisan political appointees unprecedented veto power over what books can stay on the shelves in school libraries. The bill, if signed, would vest members of the state’s textbook commission with the final decision on whether a challenged book can remain available in public school libraries.
The bill comes amid an alarming nationwide spike in book bans, so-called educational gag orders, and other legislative efforts to ban content from schools and libraries—the vast majority of which, statistics show, involve race and the LGBTQ community. The bill comes after Tennessee governor Bill Lee last month signed a law imposing new requirements for school libraries in determining “age appropriateness” of materials.
As reported in Chalkbeat, the final legislation creates a new "statewide process in which parents, school employees, or other complainants can appeal the decisions of locally elected officials on books challenged.”
Supporters of the bill insist the bill is necessary to assuage the concerns of parents who fear too much “inappropriate” literature is getting into schools. Opponents of the bill have argued that there are already well-established local policies in place in Tennessee schools and libraries for concerned parents to review or challenge the appropriateness of school library books. What the new bill does, in practice, critics say, is give the state new powers, via the appeal process, to effectively ban certain books statewide.
Lindsey Kimery, a Nashville school librarian, told Chalkbeat that the bill “opens up opportunities for one parent or one person to dictate what is in all school libraries in our state.”
Tennessee Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro added that the bill is another step down “a really dark and dangerous path.” In debating SB2247/HB2666, one of the bill’s Republican sponsors suggested he’d like to see books deemed inappropriate burned.
At press time, Tennessee governor Bill Lee has not commented on the bill's passage, although he is expected to sign it.