Utah State Board of Education approves policy outlining how a book is banned

Jul 26, 2022, 7:30 PM | Updated: Jul 28, 2022, 1:29 pm

The Utah State Board of Education says students around the state are showing signs of academic reco...

The Utah State Board of Education building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Some members of the Utah State Board of Education are not happy about how many education-related bills were passed during the 2023 legislative session. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The policy outlining how a book is banned from school libraries, and what happens while it’s under review, was approved Tuesday by the Utah State Board of Education.

But this new model policy, which school district’s don’t have to adopt, has come after multiple special board meetings, and some board members arguing they wanted to keep books off shelves while they’re under review.

Book policy

Under the new policy, there’s now a form parents can fill out for books they think are questionable.

But not just anyone can get a book reviewed at any school. The policy states, “the person has to be a parent of a student that attends the school; a student who attends the school; or an employee of the school.”

Then, a review committee is formed to evaluate the book.

“It has to be made up of certain individuals,” said USBE Communications Coordinator Kelsey James. “Parents along with school staff.”

The policy also outlines the critera the committee should follow for determining if a book should be pulled.

Those books must be evaluated on the “whole and consider whether it has serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors,” the policy states, among other guidelines.

The policy also gives the process for appealing a review committee decision, and “the steps USBE will take if it is determined a district or charter school did not follow their outlined library policy and/or Utah law during the review process,” a news release reads.

One sticking point

The policy was created in response to H.B. 374 which gives direction to school districts and charter schools for reviewing potentially sensitive materials in school.

It also comes after the Utah Attorney General’s office gave not one, but two memo’s to USBE on how that law should be interpreted.

One thorny issue debated in Tuesday’s special meeting was what happens to a book while it’s under review.

The Board ultimately approved that a book may be pulled from shelves while it is under review. However, it can still be accessed with parental permission.

Board member Natalie Cline wanted the books pulled until the review process was complete.

“The way it is written, we are actually giving kids access to pornography in a restricted fashion, either by parental permission or by a digital access code,” Cline said, voicing her opinion about pornography. “It violates H.B. 374. Our schools aren’t allowed to give students access to alcohol or drugs even with parental permission.”

Pornography is not officially defined by the state of Utah. In 2016, then-governor Gary Herbert, along with the Utah Legislature, declared pornography to be a public health hazard in the Concurrent Resolution on the Public Health Crisis. But this was a non-binding resolution, with the goal of “recognizing the need for education, prevention, research, and policy change at the
community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic.”

Cline also claimed that a memo provided to USBE to give guidance on what the law states, “books should be removed immediately when a complaint is made.”

But the Assistant Attorney General who was in the meeting, Bryan Quesenberry, said Cline’s claims about pulling the book weren’t correct.

“(The AG’s memo) does not state that upon complaint a book needs to be immediately removed,” he stated. “I’m fairly confident it’s not that precise and that exact on the timing of when a book should be removed.”

Board members, like Carol Lear also pushed back on Cline’s assessment of books under review.

“To make (pulling a book while under review) a black and white, yes or no, is uneccessary,” she said.

Scott Hansen, signaled that what Cline was suggesting was basically a ban.

“This review process, if many books are challenged, could get bogged down,” Hansen said. “And books could effectively be removed under this proposed amendment. Books could be removed for months, if the review process ends up getting bogged down and taking that long. And effectively, that’s just a ban on the book based on one person’s accusation, which doesn’t seem right to me.”

The board ultimately approved this section by agreeing that a book can be removed from general circulation but it can be accessed if a parent approves.

After dozens of amendments, and some amendments to amendments, the board approved a final version of the policy. Cline was the lone member to vote against it.

To read more on the policy, click here.

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Utah State Board of Education approves policy outlining how a book is banned