photo by Thea Marshall
Veteran School Board member Rhonda Thurman held a Hamilton County Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to further discuss the issue of obscene books in libraries. She asked community members, teachers and librarians for recommendations.
“What about this policy do we need to fix in order to remove these books?” asked Ms.
The committee’s last meeting saw opposing views regarding several topics and Tuesday’s meeting was more of the same. However, this time, the debate centered around what is deemed as “obscene.”
“I send my kids to school to be educated, not to learn explicit material,” said a committee member. “These books should not be in public schools for children to just pick up.”
The other side argued that this infringes on First Amendment rights and “no one gets to speak for everyone.” They also argued that it was “viewpoint discrimination,” and the definition of obscenity is subjective. The opposing committee members said the book content was unnecessary and inappropriate. They said there is a community standard to uphold.
Looking For Alaska by John Green was put in question for allegedly “giving instructions on how to perform oral sex.” It was apparently found in a K-8 school. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas allegedly has multiple cuss words and scenes of police violence - it was recommended to 8th through 12th graders. On the Come Up, also by Angie Thomas, was questioned for anti-police messages, excessive violence and vulgar language. Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood was another book questioned not only by Hamilton County but on a national level for sexual content.
A committee member asked if parents were complaining about this issue and the response was that three have. Ms. Thurman said she did not care how many people were complaining and would rather know about policy changes. Debate then continued about “subjectivity” in the policy.
“We wouldn't have any books if we followed the code of conduct - including the Bible,” said a committee member.
The committee discussed possible solutions like a level system where parents fill out a form claiming the level of access their child has to books that could be considered obscene. Another member said they should wait until a book comes into question to have it reviewed by the principal and librarian. Ms. Thurman said a group should already be reviewing books. Right now, choosing books is in the librarian's job description. They are selected based on criteria from the library handbook and recommendations from students, parents and teachers.
“There has to be more than one person that knows a book is there,” said Ms. Thurman. “This is about the trust in our school system.”
The committee will meet again on March 8 to further discuss.