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Parents supporting book ban lawsuit want more input before titles removed from libraries

<i></i><br/>Tennessee parents supporting a book ban lawsuit want more input before the titles are removed from libraries.
Lawrence, Nakia

Tennessee parents supporting a book ban lawsuit want more input before the titles are removed from libraries.

By Stacey Cameron

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    LEBANON, Tennessee (WSMV) — In Middle Tennessee, and across the state, dozens of books are being challenged for removal in public schools.

The process, set up under a 2022 law called the Age-Appropriate Materials Act, allows any person living in a school district to call for a review of books available on library shelves if they have a concern over whether the title is appropriate for school-aged children.

Proponents of the law believe the process is necessary to ensure children are not exposed to pornography and other sexually explicit materials while opponents of the process said it’s a means to ban books that discuss racism, gender and sexual orientation.

Regardless of which side of the debate on stands, one thing under the law is clear: you do not need to be a parent with a child attending public schools to challenge books. A person lodging asking for a review need only be a resident of the county where the school board operates.

In Wilson County, where several books have been challenged in the past year, there is a lawsuit challenging the process set up by that district’s school board.

The case, called Sorey v. Wilson County Book Review Committee, et. al., was filed in Wilson County earlier this year but moved to federal court. The suit claims that the school board is violating state open meetings law by failing to give the public proper notice of meetings related to that process.

According to court records, in Spring 2022, the Wilson County School Board created the Wilson County Book Review Committee consisting of “a mix of parents, teachers and school media specialists” to review challenged materials.

But the suit alleges that the committee “has spent roughly a year conducting meetings in secret during which it developed policy recommendations” that eventually led to the removal of two books from district library shelves – Tricks by Ellen Hopkins and Jack of Hearts (And Other Parts) by L.C. Rosen.

In court filings, the school board denied the allegations, but citing litigation declined to comment to WSMV4 Investigates for this story. The attorney filing the suit also declined an interview request, saying by email that “School districts should not be banning innocuous books in secret and in obvious violation of state law.”

While the suit is now before a federal judged, some parents like Lindsey Patrick-Wright, a Wilson County mother and former librarian, are speaking out in support of the case.

“I absolutely think this needs to be brought to light,” Patrick-Wright said. “For someone like me, who is still very passionate about libraries and the freedom to read. It’s terrifying.”

Patrick-Wright believes parents should have more insight into what the Book Review Committee said and discusses when meeting to review challenged books.

“I think here in Tennessee, we’re seeing what happened when government is conducted behind closed doors,” Patrick-Wright said.

Patrick-Wright said one of her biggest concerns is the school board already having its mind made up over whether to remove challenged books, saying if the committee’s work and discussions are not made public, the school board may be more likely to follow the recommendations of the teachers, parents and media specialists reading the books, and not bow to the political pressure of people making passionate speeches before the board.

“I think it is important that parents like me and parents on the other side of this argument are able to see what is discussed at the book review committee,” Patrick-Wright said.

Several school districts in Middle Tennessee told WSMV4 Investigates that they operate similarly to the Wilson County Book Review Committee, saying parents and the public are not given prior notice of when their relevant committees meet to review challenged materials. So, if successful, the suit in Wilson County has the potential of changing the way this book removal process plays out across the state. Something Patrick-Wright hopes to see happen.

“I certainly wish that it hadn’t gotten to the point of a lawsuit. I think that lawsuits are time, and they are money, and they take away from the board being able to do the business of taking care of a school system,” Patrick-Wright said. “But I do think that this needs to be a transparent process, and I think there are parents like me who are getting up, speaking and saying so.”

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