NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – On Monday, the Tennessee House passed legislation that prohibits allowing “obscene materials or materials harmful to minors” to be available to students in the school libraries controlled by a local education agency (LEA) or public school. It also threatens to withhold education funding and criminally punish educators if orders to remove them aren’t followed.
In addition to passing the bill (HB 1944), the House adopted an amendment that: “requires the local board of education or the governing body of the public charter school to determine if the material is obscene or harmful to minors no later than the next regularly scheduled meeting of the board or the governing body after the 30-day period.”
If someone disobeys the school board’s directive to remove a book, they could face a class A misdemeanor, or a class E felony if someone repeatedly doesn’t comply. Failure to comply with the policy could also result in the state withholding education funds.
The measure was introduced after the McMinn County School Board removed the graphic novel, Maus, from its curriculum. The debate over obscene materials and book bans in schools has been on the rise, both nationally and in Tennessee.
At a House Criminal Justice hearing earlier this month, Rep. G.A Hardaway (D-Memphis) said the banning of access to literature for students and punishing librarians with criminal charges was wrong. “I’m offended that my librarians were compared to sex predators, and pedophiles lurking around in white vans that means someone doesn’t even know what the bill does and has no idea what a librarian does.”
Hardaway’s remark in reference to comments made by John Rich, one-half of the duo Big & Rich.
“What’s the difference between a teacher, educator, or librarian putting one of these books like you have on the desk of a student or a guy in a white van pulling up at the edge of school when school lets out and saying ‘come on around kids let me read you this book and show you these pictures.’ What’s the difference in those two scenarios? There is a difference, by the way, they can run away from the guy in the white van,” the country music star said at a February 23 hearing.
The action now shifts in the Republican-supermajority Legislature to the Senate. It’s set to go in front of the Senate’s Education Committee on Wednesday, March 30.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.