Education , Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | March 7, 2023

Oklahoma Senate restricts pornographic materials in school libraries

Ray Carter

Oklahoma school libraries would be required to restrict children’s access to materials based on the age-appropriateness of materials, following public outcry after numerous reports of sexually graphic and pornographic materials in many schools, under legislation approved by the Oklahoma Senate.

“We want to allow kids to be kids, and there’s certain things we don’t necessarily want to expose them to at taxpayer expense in a taxpayer-funded facility,” said state Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain.

He noted that when a portion of a school library book was read aloud at a recent meeting of the Stillwater Board of Education, that excerpt could not be aired unedited on a local news station because it ran afoul of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines.

“If you can’t even read it on the 10 o’clock news, I would say it’s probably not age appropriate for inclusion in the junior high school library,” Hamilton said.

State Sen. Carri Hicks asked why the legislation would allow “community standards” to be part of the process, suggesting the bill has racial undertones.

Senate Bill 397, by Hamilton, would require public schools and public libraries to appoint a committee to “conduct an inventory of print and nonprint materials and media located in their libraries.” Following that review, material would be classified into one of four categories in public schools: elementary, junior high, “under 16,” and “juniors and seniors.”

Libraries at schools serving grades five and below could not include books rated above the elementary level, and schools serving students in grades eight or younger would only be allowed to have books designated as “elementary” or “junior high.”

The legislation also states, “Beginning July 1, 2024, no print or nonprint material or media in a school district library, charter school library, or public library shall include content that the average person age eighteen (18) or older applying contemporary community standards would find has a predominant tendency to appeal to a prurient interest in sex.”

State Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, asked why the legislation would allow “community standards” to be part of the process, declaring that “the last time the United States of America engaged in community standards for policing was during Jim Crow and segregation.”

“We’re not attempting segregation here or any type of policing,” Hamilton responded. He noted the bill’s language is similar to federal regulations regarding obscenity, which also rely on community standards.

State Sen. George Young, D-Oklahoma City, also suggested the bill had racial undertones.

“I don’t want a group looking into the libraries in northeast Oklahoma City,” Young said.

He suggested such reviews could result in children having restricted access to books on slavery.

“Slavery was a horrendous institution,” Young said. “So because of the rape and the torture and all of the ill things that occur, you’re going to take that out of the library so that the students cannot read it, so they will not understand and know what actually occurred.”

Hamilton responded that many books on slavery should not only be part of school libraries, but also be required reading.

Supporters stressed the need to address the problem of sexual content in many school libraries.

State Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, noted a teacher in Norman now faces the loss of her teaching license after she tried to provide students with books “that had graphic nudity, sexually explicit things in them.”

“We need to have guardrails like this in place so parents can be involved in these committees and put forth their ideas of what’s appropriate for those kids,” Standridge said.

Hamilton said the role of school librarians is important, but those individuals are not the only voices that matter.

“We hear a lot about partnerships regarding the education of our children, and that’s not a totally inaccurate statement,” Hamilton said. “We need the educators. We need the administration. And we need librarians. But understand this: It is the parent who is the majority partner in this partnership. Parents cast a deciding vote.”

SB 397 passed the Oklahoma Senate on a 35-10 vote. It now proceeds to the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

“The whole reason that we have kids in school is so that they can learn to read,” Hamilton said. “And they don’t need sexual material in order to stimulate their desire to learn how to read.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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