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Process for challenging ‘obscene’ books, school programs becomes law without Beshear’s signature

A bill mandating a complaint process for parents to challenge books became law without Gov. Andy Beshear’s signature.
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A bill mandating a complaint process for parents to challenge books became law without Gov. Andy Beshear’s signature.

Kentucky School Boards Association says it will be watching for increased burden, politicization of nonpartisan school board business

A bill that opponents warn could lead to book banning became law without Gov. Andy Beshear’s signature after the governor chose not to sign or veto the measure.

Secretary of State Michael Adams said Senate Bill 5 was delivered to his office without the governor’s signature Monday afternoon.

The measure, which had an emergency clause making it effective immediately, requires local school boards to create complaint processes for parents and guardians to challenge materials and programs that they consider inappropriate for children.

Lawmakers supportive of Senate Bill 5 said the legislation would protect children from obscene materials in the classroom, but critics said it could lead to book banning. The measure passed out of the Senate and House easily.

The bill calls on the Kentucky Department of Education to create a model policy for a complaint resolution process that meets the bills’ requirements by May 1. School boards must adopt their local policy by July 1.

The bill defines “harmful to minors” as:

“(a) Contains the exposure, in an obscene manner, of the unclothed or apparently unclothed human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks or the female breast, or visual depictions of sexual acts or simulations of sexual acts, or explicit written descriptions of sexual acts;

(b) Taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex; or

(c) Is patently offensive to prevailing standards regarding what is suitable material for minors.”

Joshua Shoulta, the director of Communications for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said in a statement some Kentucky school districts already have policies in place for parents, guardians, school employees and other community members to address controversial issues or grievances. The bill goes a step further by framing requirements on how districts can process and resolve parent complaints about materials and programs that are “harmful to minors.”

“A key provision of the bill requires a process for appealing complaints to the local board of education,” Shoulta said. “KSBA will be watching closely to see what kind of increased burden, (if) any, is placed on school boards and their central offices. Will there, for instance, be additional and/or longer school board meetings in this initial year? Will districts struggle to meet the tight timelines for response and resolution? Will the nature of the complaints ignite further controversy? Will the non-partisan business of our locally elected school boards be politicized to the point of possible disruption?”

KSBA will work with KDE and school districts in the weeks ahead to prepare guidance on or before May 1 and ensure school boards have appropriate policies by July 1, Shoulta said.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jason Howell, R-Murray, told the Senate, “The great thing about this bill is it keeps us from deciding this up here as legislation,” referring to the power of school boards to review complaints from parents.

Opponents of the bill included some Democratic lawmakers and organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and the Kentucky Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

After the delivery notification, the Republican Party of Kentucky issued a statement saying Beshear “took the coward’s way out and refused to stand up for parental rights in education.”

“Thank goodness we have strong Republican leadership in the legislature when it comes to the education of our children because we have a Governor who believes he and his Education Commissioner ought to have more say over the education of our children instead of Kentucky’s parents,” RPK Spokesman Sean Southard said. “Andy Beshear is the opposite of what Kentucky deserves."

This story was originally published by the Kentucky Lantern.

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.
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