County School System Looks At Policy Changes For School Books Deemed Obscene

Wednesday, February 9, 2022 - by Thea Marshall

The Hamilton County School Board held a discussion with librarians, teachers and community members to get recommendations for policy changes.

School Board member Rhonda Thurman led Tuesday evening’s meeting.


She said the panel is hoping to come back to the full board with recommendations about how to handle obscene books in their schools. But the group was divided.


“If we can’t agree that this kind of language is not acceptable for our schools, parents are going to take their money and go elsewhere,” said Ms. Thurman. “They are going to lose complete confidence in schools and I don’t blame them.”


A District representative argued that kids’ First Amendment rights should be recognized. Another said children can “steer clear” of those books by using school websites, while another representative said, “If you can’t make your literary stance without using cuss words is the art really that important?” 


"A lot of parents don’t realize their kids are reading these books,” said Ms. Thurman.


She said she wanted to remove books with obscenity from libraries and classroom bookshelves, though she said she “doesn’t know how far they will get yet.”


Many committee members said they got confused as to what the reason for the meeting actually was. Policy is already set in place in the Code of Conduct. And Tennessee lawmakers proposed a bill to ban obscene books in schools last month. Ms. Thurman said she thinks that bill will likely go through. 


Ms. Thurman said she only wanted to make adjustments to the policy because she said it clearly is not working. One member said it would help to understand the policy fully and recommended a lawyer be present at the next meeting for clarification. 


Another said, “If we are changing the policy we need to know what lane we are in,” regarding the different levels of the policy. Ms. Thurman said they make the policy so parents can understand and she does not have time to go over it.

 

A district representative said, “If it is so clear, then how did these books get through?”


Heavy debate continued as Ms. Thurman made remarks about who pays for the books - according to her, the taxpayers do. However, librarians and teachers said the majority of books are donated. 


“The majority of books don’t come from taxpayer money and even simple supplies don’t,” said a staff member. “We either get it donated through outside organizations or we raise it through book fairs.” 


Then choosing the books became the main topic. Some argued there should be lists or records of the books. The possibility of  “no-go” words and book “standards” were discussed. A district representative said they did not think the board even knew how books were being chosen.


One said book reviews have helped her choose the right books. Another responded saying that reviews for obscene books were “appalling.” 


Others said they use library resources like the library handbook. And others recommended teacher and parent input. 


The committee, which was called earlier by Board Chairman Tucker McClendon, plans to meet again in two weeks. 

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