Boyle schools removing library books in response to SB 150

Published 7:05 pm Monday, October 16, 2023

A local resident voiced concerns about the Boyle County school district removing library books in response to Senate Bill 150 at the Boyle County Board of Education meeting on Sept. 21.

SB 150 is a new Kentucky law, passed in March, that changes how schools teach about gender identity and LGBTQ issues. It requires public schools to notify parents about instruction related to human sexuality; does not require teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns; prohibits districts from keeping student information confidential from parents; establishes requirements for any public school’s course, curriculum, or program on the subject of human sexuality, among other things.

About 106 books have been removed from the five district schools in response to SB 150. Personnel have removed 55 books from the high school, 17 from the middle school, 15 from Woodlawn Elementary School, 17 from Junction City Elementary and two from Perryville Elementary.

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Some books that have been removed include “Gender in the 21st Century” by M.M. Eboch, “Only Mostly Devastated” by Sophie Gonzales, “Julian is a Mermaid” by Jessica Love and “The League of Super Feminists” by Mirion Malle.

Superintendent Mark Wade said in an interview with the Advocate-Messenger that the district removed books based on language in SB 150. Since the Kentucky Department of Education did not provide specific guidance on some language, the law was left open to the interpretation of each local BOE.

Part of the law about respecting parental rights states that “Children in grade five and below do not receive any instruction through curriculum or programs on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases; or any child, regardless of grade level, enrolled in the district does not receive any instruction or presentation that has a goal or purpose of students studying or exploring gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

Wade explained that they reviewed current courses, programming, instructional resources and learning experiences, including health education curriculum, Advanced Placement coursework, dual credit courses and extracurricular activities. District leadership worked with all school library media specialists, and the district’s legal council, attorney Stephen Dexter, to ensure compliance with the law.

“Our school library books and programs are considered instructional resources, and are made available to support the grade-level standards being taught,” Wade said. “School libraries are instructional support entities within our school. As such, school libraries operate differently than a public library system.”

During the public comment section of the Sept. 21 BOE meeting, county resident Shonna Storz said she doesn’t believe the district is interpreting the law correctly, saying SB 150 states nothing about library books.

Storz has two teenagers in the Boyle school system. She is a former educator who has taught life science to middle schoolers.

“I’m so proud to be a parent at Boyle County Schools,” Storz said. “I love education, it’s one of my highest values.”

Storz explained that SB 150 does not mention books or libraries. She argued that books should not be classified as “instruction,” as it is not the same as the term “instructional resources.”

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, one definition of “instruction” is “the act of teaching someone how to do something.”

Storz argued that the section stating “…any child, regardless of grade level, enrolled in the district does not receive any instruction or presentation…” refers to the act of teaching, rather than extra student resources like library books.

Attorney Stephen Dexter, who provided legal counsel to the district on this law, told the Advocate-Messenger that the district’s new policies are in compliance with the law.

“Ultimately, district leadership determined that library books constitute curriculum and programming for the district, which is a legally defensible position,” Dexter said. “As such, a limited number of books pertaining to the topics referenced in SB 150 were removed.”

Storz pointed out that the law’s section stating “…children in grade five and below do not receive any instruction through curriculum or programs on human sexuality…” is only specific to grades 5 and below. Yet books are being removed from the middle school and high school as well.

“Even if libraries are interpreted as programs, libraries and books above the fifth grade should not be impacted,” Storz argued.

For grades six and above, the law states that schools need to get written parental permission for students to receive “any instruction through curriculum or programs on human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases.”

Parents have the right to review materials including curriculum; instructional materials; lesson plans; assessments or tests; surveys or questionnaires; assignments; and instructional activities.

Other districts

“In my understanding of the law, and in talking to a couple of lawyers, and in talking to many librarians across the state, other libraries are not removing books from shelves in our state; this is not a common practice based on this law,” Storz said.

Storz said she has not heard of any other school districts in the state removing library books in response to SB 150. Wade said he has heard of other districts removing books, but would not share which districts.

Danville Independent School District Senior Media Manager Olivia Mohr confirmed that Danville Schools has not removed any library books in response to SB 150.

Dexter said that as legal counsel, he does not create or direct policy.  Policy is determined by the BOE upon the recommendation of the superintendent.

“In this particular instance, district leadership formulated a policy and my legal review determined that it was in compliance with the law,” Dexter said.

Wade said that initial decisions on the matter were made before he became superintendent in July, but he supports the decisions. He said it’s up to district leadership to determine what books are in the library.

Other books

Not all of the books removed are about gender identity or LGBTQ issues. For example, some books that have been removed from Boyle County High School include “Reproductive Rights” by Anne Cunningham, “Sexual Consent” by Martin Gitlin and “Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting” by Lisa Frick, and others.

“Some of these books, you would want all of our young adults to be able to read and have access to,” Storz said. “What world do we have right now that we don’t want our young people to understand about what sexual consent is?”

Storz said she is part of a group of concerned parents who have taken this issue to the BOE.

“The only response has been to put some of the books back and parents have been told to take it up with each principal; this is infuriating,” Storz said.

Wade said the schools have a reconsideration policy for library books, and that parents can go to the principles of each school and make an argument on why certain books should be put back.

“Our first move was a big filter, and with a big filter, you’re going to catch some things you don’t need to, and catch some things you do need to,” Wade said. “Of all the publications that exist in the world, not all are appropriate or relevant to high school students.”

Storz said that some books have been put back since parents first talked to the BOE, but that the list is still long.

“They are 106 books that our librarians felt were valuable enough to purchase at one point that took money from our budget,” Storz said.

Wade said that if a student or parent desires a book not carried by the school libraries, he encourages them to visit the public library or purchase it online.

“There is not a requirement or right for certain books to be made available,” Dexter said. “Rather, it is up to district leadership to determine what books, curriculum and programs should be included in district libraries.  Library books are reviewed, removed or added to on an annual basis at the discretion of district leadership and needs.”

Storz said that she is disappointed in the district’s decision to remove educational resources.

“‘Kids Come First’ is clearly not the motto regarding these important educational materials, especially when our country is already in a crisis of mental health, sexual assaults, and aggression towards our trans and LGBTQ youth,” she said.

Wade said the law could continue to evolve, and that they are obligated to implement the law and respond if there are changes.

“In Boyle County Schools, we teach rigorous grade-level state standards, and offer a variety of instructional programs and opportunities for our students,” Wade said. “We will continue to give students the best education and opportunity possible.”

To see a full list of books that have been removed, click here: Boyle library books removed