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Utah will release its first statewide list of banned books in early August

Before school starts this fall, Utah officials will send a list of books to all public schools, ordering them to be “removed.” Among those titles could be works by well-known authors such as Toni Morrison, Judy Blume and Margaret Atwood – titles that some districts and public statutes have already banned.

That’s because, under a new law that goes into effect July 1, a charter can be removed from all schools in the state if at least three school districts (or at least two school districts and five charter schools) determine specifically that it is “objective sensitive”. material” – pornographic or indecent as defined by Utah code.

The law, which Gov. Spencer Cox signed into law in March, applies retroactively to all books banned before July 1. In recent months, the Utah State Board of Education has wrestled with how to apply the law retroactively.

The challenge has been that, until now, an “objective” statewide sensible material standard has never existed, and districts have not been required to use that terminology when determining removal.

But on Friday, the state school board strengthened that process, taking a step toward determining which titles will be among the first to be banned from every Utah public school.

Review of previously prohibited material

The new law requires local education leaders to evaluate whether a challenged book amounts to “objective” sensitive material or “subjective” sensitive material. The “subjective” material may not meet the state’s definition of pornography or “indecent public display” but would otherwise be considered “harmful” to young people.

In this case, the book could still be pulled from local shelves, but the statewide book ban threshold only applies to “objective” sensitive material.

The administrative rule set Friday outlines how districts and public statutes will retroactively apply the new law banning the books nationwide. It requires schools to report the removal of any material for which they have “sufficient information” to justify removal under the new “objective” criteria.

To help districts navigate the process, the state board also created a non-legally binding “Instructional Materials Guidance Document.” It recommends that schools conduct an “initial assessment” of all previous determinations to decide whether material qualifies as “objective” or “subjective” sensitive material. The guidance document suggests that two local staff may be responsible for this initial determination.

For some districts, such as the Washington County School District, that may mean revisiting more than 50 titles it has already banned, according to an analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune.

School districts and charters have just 30 days after July 1 to make decisions and report them to USBE, according to the rule.

USBE will then compile those determinations and communicate to schools by Aug. 5 which titles have met the statewide threshold for removal, the rule states.

Districts also have until Sept. 1 to rewrite their sensitive materials policies to comply with the new law and administrative rule.

The council considers, then reconsiders, an order to burn the book

Once the statewide ban list is provided to schools, they must “lawfully remove” those materials and notify parents, according to the administrative rule.

The state board on Friday considered requiring schools to physically “destroy” the objectively sensitive material, worried that children will still find a way to access it.

“I don’t care if it’s shredded, burned, has to be destroyed one way or another,” said council member Brent Strate, prompting some council members to laugh.

But council member Emily Green took offense.

“The work we’re doing here today is at a level of seriousness that, beyond the book-burning and book-banning puns, we’re essentially protecting kids from having explicit taxpayer-funded material distributed through our system of public education,” Green said.

Carol Lear dismissed Green, arguing that her “jovial attitude” was justified.

“I find it funny that we’re going to ban books and burn books and take them past the school dumpster because kids are so desperate for information that they apparently aren’t getting from their parents,” Lear said. “It’s hard for me to take this seriously. And honestly, I hope this is so bad that someone sues.”

Out of concern that requiring schools to physically destroy banned books would leave them open to litigation over the destruction of government property, the board decided that the language “lawfully dispose of” would suffice. Schools are also prohibited from selling or distributing material determined to be “objectively” sensitive, according to the rule.

USBE could still intervene

Even if enough school districts or charter schools determine that a book is “objectively” sensitive, USBE still has the ability to intervene before a statewide book ban goes into effect.

To do so, the state school board must hold a hearing within 60 days of reaching the threshold, according to the law.

But under the new rule, “three or more” USBE leaders have only 30 days from the time of notification to “request that the material be placed on the board agenda for a vote to waive the requirement elimination at the state level”.

If no hearing takes place, the statewide removal remains in effect.