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Utah board of education to comply with new state school library law

By Ashtyn Asay - Daily Herald | May 20, 2022

MATTHEW ARDEN HATFIELD, Standard-Examiner file photo

Students at Bluff Ridge Elementary School in Syracuse read books in the school library Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012.

The Utah State Board of Education announced Thursday that it will enforce a new law banning sensitive instructional materials in schools.

The announcement is in response to recently passed House Bill 374, sponsored by Rep. Ken Ivory, which prohibits certain sensitive instructional materials in schools, including those that could be considered pornographic or indecent.

In a letter from Speaker Brad Wilson to the USBE dated Wednesday, Wilson asked the board to enforce HB 374, which he believes has been subject to mischaracterization.

“There have been attempts to misrepresent H.B. 374’s intent and prevent its full implementation,” Wilson wrote in the letter. “It is our responsibility to ensure the success and well-being of Utah students, even if it requires difficult decisions and conversations.”

In a response addressed to Wilson and signed by USBE board Chair Mark Huntsman and Vice Chairs Laura Belnap and Cindy Davis, the USBE announced that it is working to establish the new law in schools.

“The members and staff of the Utah State Board of Education share your concern about the potential appearance of pornographic or indecent instructional materials in public school settings,” the USBE letter states. “We want to assure you that we have been working swiftly and surely to enforce H.B. 374, Sensitive Materials in Schools.”

The USBE stated in its letter that it is also working to enforce R277-628, a new administrative rule that was passed in February requiring local education agencies to establish protocols to ensure that all library materials are in accordance with state and federal law, including HB 374.

This rule also creates a reporting mechanism and requires all school districts and charter schools within the state to begin documenting parental challenges to materials used in schools. Due to R277-628, the USBE does not plan to enact another rule to comply with HB 374 at this time.

The USBE has received funding from the Legislature in order to hire a state-level library specialist who will monitor and provide support to local education agencies as rule R277-628 and Section 53G-10-103 are implemented in schools.

“(W)e thank the legislature for the funding you provided for the board to hire a state-level library specialist to further the work with local education agencies (LEAs) that we both want to see done,” the letter states. “We will have a new library specialist joining our staff soon.”

According to the letter from the USBE, the board believes that the Attorney General will provide supplemental guidance on laws surrounding school libraries which it intends to comply with.

“The Board continues to work with the Office of the Attorney General to provide the best legal guidance to districts and (charter schools) on handling sensitive materials in schools,” Huntsman said in a press release. “We are also moving expeditiously and judiciously to comply with all aspects of H.B. 374.”

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