Whether it’s a textbook or a library book, it won’t be allowed in Carroll County Public Schools if deemed sexually explicit by school officials. That’s thanks to a new policy passed unanimously by its school board Wednesday.
The vote came after a monthslong campaign by the conservative parent group Moms for Liberty, whose members challenged dozens of school library books they say are inappropriate for students.
The board decided in the fall that staff should tighten the policy on textbook and library book selection and tasked them with creating a definition of “sexually explicit.”
“Instructional materials, including supplemental materials, shall not contain sexually explicit content,” the new policy states. “Sexually explicit content is defined as unambiguously describing, depicting, showing, or writing about sex or sex acts in a detailed or graphic manner.”
The policy doesn’t apply to materials used in the health curriculum.
Opposing parents pushed back against Moms for Liberty’s campaign, saying that removing books is censorship and that one group of parents shouldn’t decide what’s best for everyone. There was even an attempt to challenge the Bible to test the system.
None of the 61 books that were challenged was available to elementary students. They only lived on middle and high school shelves. That was until the superintendent removed them all, except for the Bible, until they went through the review process. She said it’s because reviewing such a high volume of books would take too long. And school officials said removing the Bible would be a constitutional issue.
Kathryn Berling, a parent and school librarian at Taneytown Elementary School, told board members that they nor the school system asked for librarians’ input on the books. While she spoke, a handful of attendees stood with her in solidarity.
Berling noted that librarians were not asked for input when the superintendent took away the books, nor on a new policy put in place at the beginning of the year that requires librarians to complete a time-consuming checklist policing a book’s content before selecting for the library.
The board also, she noted, did not ask librarians about defining “sexually explicit.”
“It’s a shame you cannot trust the professionalism of our CCPS media specialists,” Berling said.
Shortly before Wednesday’s vote, a few board members questioned how staff defined “sexually explicit” in the policy proposal. Sahithya Sudhakar, the student member, said she doesn’t think the definition suffices because graphic content can look different to different people. It’s a risk to content like literature that students read in class, she added.
“I’m worried we’re losing important content in our schools because a single line is taken out of context,” said Sudhakar, who does not have voting rights.
Fellow members Tara Battaglia and Patricia Dorsey, who ended up voting for the policy, echoed her concerns on the definition and asked if there was more they can do to make it less subjective.
But members Steve Whisler and Donna Sivigny saw no issue. Whisler said as an elected official he won’t tolerate any tax dollars spent on “sexually explicit” books.
“It is the job of parents, not educators ... to determine what’s sexually explicit,” he said.