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Banning books in Washington state schools could get harder if bill passes

caption: A Banned Books Week display is at the Mott Haven branch of the New York Public Library in the Bronx borough of New York City on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.
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A Banned Books Week display is at the Mott Haven branch of the New York Public Library in the Bronx borough of New York City on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023.

Efforts to ban books across the country reached an all-time high in 2022, according to the American Library Association. Now, some Washington lawmakers are trying to prevent more bans here.

HB 2331 would essentially prohibit Washington schools from banning books solely because they were written by or about members of marginalized groups, like people of color and the LGBTQ community.

The bill would also require school district instructional materials committees to recruit diverse members, including at least one parent, and to have recommendations for "culturally and experientially representative" books and learning materials. In addition, the bill would block anyone other than district parents from lodging complaints about books and curriculum.

The bill got closer to becoming law Thursday, after passing the state Senate along party lines 29-20.

Democrats said the bill will help keep diverse, and inclusive books in public schools.

"I believe every child deserves to encounter characters and stories that resonate with their own experiences, their own background and identity," said Sen. T'wina Nobles, a Democrat from Fircrest.

"The goal of the bill is simple," she added, "to ensure districts have thoughtful policies and practices in place when complaints about instructional materials and books come forward, and to make sure those policies and practices align with our current anti-discrimination laws."

Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton) also spoke in support of the bill, arguing that the Legislature should safeguard all young people's "access to books that will allow them to see themselves."

This is especially important for LGBTQ youth, Randall said, because those students are more likely to face mental health challenges and experience bullying and violence.

"It is so important that we stand up and stand alongside young people who may not feel welcomed in their classrooms or their school districts or their communities, but find a welcoming space in a book that reflects them for who they are," Randallsaid. "We are everywhere, and we deserve to feel welcome and affirmed everywhere."

Ahead of Thursday's vote, several Republicans spoke out against the bill, arguing local districts and their constituents should have the right to decide what is and isn't appropriate.

"It is another step towards the erosion of local control in our schools," said Sen. Brad Hawkins of East Wenatchee, "and it takes those community decisions away from the communities."

Sen. Ann Rivers, a La Center Republican, agreed.

"This bill truly represents the fact that the Legislature is slowly moving school boards towards extinction," she said. "Soon, we won't need them at all because we, from our position up here, will be making every decision that impacts school districts."

"School districts reflect the views and values of their region, and I think we have to respect that," Rivers added. "There's nothing wrong with that."

The bill still needs to go back to the House before Gov. Jay Inslee has his chance to sign it into law.

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