The right to read diverse books is under attack in Sumner County Schools. Emboldened by the new Age Appropriate Materials Act of 2022 (TN Code 49-6-3803), parents and school board members are challenging books which feature diverse characters, including Black and LGBTQ+ characters.
A parent of a 6-year-old boy challenged Zetta Elliott’s book A Place Inside of Me for removal from Jack Anderson Elementary School’s library. In the challenge form, she stated “There is nothing good in this book” and specifically cited the inclusion of the words “Black Lives Matter” in some of the illustrations and falsely claimed BLM is a terrorist organization. Read her full challenge here.
The school followed school board policy and formed a committee to review the book. The committee decided the book should remain on the shelves, while emphasizing that parents can work with librarians and teachers to put specific limits on the materials their children can access in the library. Read the committee’s findings here. The parent appealed this decision to the school board which took up the challenge during its October 18 meeting.
Hilary Nimmo Lounder, 2022 Democratic School Board Candidate for District 3, quickly organized a group called Right to Read-Sumner to rally citizens to speak out against book bans. During the meeting, 23 parents, librarians, teachers, and students from across the political spectrum passionately spoke about the importance of books which tell the stories of historically minoritized voices and reminded the school board of the First Amendment rights of students to access diverse ideas and materials in school libraries. The full meeting video is available to watch online. 10 speakers advocated for removing the book, some citing age inappropriate material while others, like County Commissioner Jeremy Mansfield, used baseless conspiracy theories attempting to cast the book as propaganda for killing police and escaping to Cuba to avoid prosecution. (Yes, this really happened. Check out 1:58 in the meeting video.)
Ultimately, the board couldn’t pass a motion to keep the book, with 5 voting to keep the book in the library (Hayes, Lancaster, Andrews, Gregory & Brewer), 2 abstaining (King & Brown) and 1 voting to remove (Lacy). To pass, the vote required at least 6 yes votes. Three were not in attendance (Hawkins, Wise, & Daniels). A motion to remove the book also failed. The board has the option to bring this to another vote at the meeting on November 15. As of now the book remains in circulation since that was the recommendation of the book reconsideration board at JAE.
More Book Challenges to Come
At the beginning of the school board meeting, Member Steven King sought to add an item to the agenda to immediately review and vote on removal of Jonathan Evison’s book Lawn Boy from several high school libraries, citing state law and school board policy against obscene materials. The motion failed with members saying they wanted the book to go through the school board policy and procedure for challenging and removing books.
King subsequently threatened legal action against the school system and the board if the book was not removed from circulation within 24 hours. (We’re not making this up. See his letter for yourself here.)
Currently the book has been removed from circulation in local high school libraries pending librarian review, along with several other books from the American Library Association’s list of commonly challenged books.
Take Action Now
If you support students’ First Amendment rights to access materials with a wide range of ideas and perspectives, it’s time to contact the Sumner County School Board and let your voice be heard.
And include these school system leaders in your emails as well:
Follow Right to Read-Sumner for updates and ways to take action in the future.