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Indiana Senate panel OKs bill to remove some school library protections

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Public education supporters on Wednesday said eliminating some protections for libraries could lead to the removal of modern classics from the shelves.

Under current state law, school libraries can stock material some consider sexually explicit if they serve an educational, artistic or literary purpose. In a repeat of an ultimately unsuccessful effort in the 2022 General Assembly, a Senate committee voted to eliminate the educational-use exception and create a formal process for parents to file a grievance process through their local school board. The bill also would require libraries to publish a list of every book in their collection.

During Wednesday’s hearing, parents and bill author Sen. Jim Tomes, a Republican from Wadesville in southern Indiana, zeroed in on several books in particular, calling them pornographic. They include the 2019 graphic memoir “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and the graphic novel “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships and Being a Human Being” by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan.

Rhonda Miller, the president of Elkhart County-based Purple for Parents of Indiana, told the committee creating a grievance process before school boards simply gives schools another way to drag their feet, and the original version of the bill, which lacked the grievance process, would be much more effective.

“You are allowing this material to stay in schools, which creates a pornography addiction,” she said. “These children will have lifetime implications.”

Opponents of the bill said the measure’s language could lead to the removal of a host of books that are not just available to students but in many cases are incorporated into classes. Rachel Burke, president of Indiana PTA, said titles the bill puts at risk includes works by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, William Faulkner and James Joyce.

Sen. Greg Taylor, a Democrat from Indianapolis, noted one book the bill’s supporters cited is the 2017 young adult novel “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, in which a Black teenager deals with the aftermath of a friend’s death at the hands of a police officer. Taylor, who had a relative serve as the co-executive producer of the novel’s 2018 film adaptation, said the books targeted by the bill’s supporters often speak to the lived experiences of people from marginalized communities.

“We’re trying to make these life experiences fit in this box. This box like everybody experiences the same trauma,” Taylor said. “Some of the trauma that is portrayed in this movie, in this book, I’ve gone through personally, and this book helped me.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill on a 7-4 vote. It now heads to the full Senate, where further changes are likely.