In a nationally televised face-off, Govs. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., and Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., on Thursday night debated, among other things, whether school libraries should carry explicit content on their shelves.

When two high-profile state officials spar over an issue on prime-time TV, policies related to that issue are likely to be a topic for other state lawmakers when they go back into session in January. 

Researchers at The Heritage Foundation have found that books depicting sex acts and promoting the ambiguous ideas of “gender” are, in fact, landing in school libraries. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

Educators have a responsibility to present students with accurate, age-appropriate material, and teachers should discuss the teaching of personal topics, such as sex, with parents before talking with students about them.

On sex education, some states such as Arizona have opt-in and opt-out policies, where educators must get express permission from parents before students take sex-education classes, but most states only have opt-out rules that allow parents to remove their child from a sex-education class after parents discover what their child is learning.

Florida’s State Board of Education took a proactive step last year and prohibited the teaching of “gender,” a loose term that defies a clear biological definition, in grades 4 through 12. (State law already prohibited the teaching in K-3.)

But what about student access to library books?

State policymakers trying to protect children from content deemed inappropriate for different grade levels should consider what books students can scan at the checkout desk.

Officials should design policies that do not allow school board members to “ban” a book only because the board disagrees with it. School board members’ and teachers’ priority should be to consider whether material is age appropriate and create processes by which educators can work alongside parents to decide the books librarians keep in stock.

The South Carolina State Board of Education is considering a regulation that would help parents and teachers as they choose the instructional materials used in schools, including library books.

The regulation states that teachers and school boards must determine whether library books are “age and developmentally appropriate” and “educationally suitable” for South Carolina students.

School district officials must post a list of all the library books available in district schools on their websites, helping to make school materials more transparent for moms and dads.

As school personnel choose instructional materials and books for use in classrooms and libraries, they must review the materials’ “academic or educational rigor” and “educational significance,” as well as the materials’ “validity, accuracy, objectivity, currency, and appropriateness,” and whether a particular item is of high quality.

Parents can file a complaint against a book or set of materials with which they disagree, but individuals must show in their complaint that they have read or viewed the book or media they are requesting be removed.

School board members must consider any complaints in a public meeting and decide whether the books or media being considered meet the “rigor” and “accuracy” criteria described in the regulation.

Lawmakers in Florida and Georgia adopted similar provisions in 2022, and Texas officials did so earlier this year. Florida’s new law contains provisions that require school districts to make the selection process for instructional materials open to the public, while Georgia’s law creates a process by which parents can object to certain materials.

For the last two years, Oklahoma policymakers have considered proposals that define the ways in which educators would select age-appropriate materials.

Newsom may call such proposals “book banning,” but most of the books that groups such as PEN America claim are banned are still readily available on school library shelves.

Lawmakers concerned with rigor and accuracy in schools are not “banning” quality material. They are doing their due diligence to protect children from explicit content and keep parents involved in schools.

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