In an unprecedented move, lawmakers in California have approved a bill that seeks to impose financial penalties on school boards that ban books addressing race and LGBTQ+ issues.
The legislative decision, which had drawn heated debates, is set to shape the education landscape in the state and possibly beyond.
California’s Assembly Bill No. 1078, known as AB-1078, stipulates that school boards that remove books from libraries or restrict access to classroom materials based on their content related to race and LGBTQ+ issues will face fines.
The bill’s proponents argue that its primary objective is to ensure all students have access to comprehensive educational materials that reflect the diversity of society.
AB-1078 Key Provisions
The wide-ranging AB-1078 legislation includes many important elements. The six points highlighted below are some of the standout provisions that are particularly significant in terms of their impact on education in California.
1. Expansion of the Safe Place to Learn Act: The bill expands the Safe Place to Learn Act, which requires the State Department of Education to check whether local educational agencies have adopted a policy that prohibits discrimination, harassment, intimidation, and bullying based on specified protected characteristics.
The new law requires such policies to apply to the acts of the governing board or body of the local educational agency, the superintendent of the school district, and the county superintendent of schools.
2. Guidance and Public Educational Materials: The State Department of Education is required, by July 1, 2025, to develop guidance and public educational materials to ensure that all Californians can access information about educational laws and policies that safeguard the right to an accurate and inclusive curriculum.
3. Instructional Materials and Textbooks: The legislation outlines processes for ensuring that every pupil in a school district has sufficient textbooks and instructional materials aligned to specified content standards.
If deficiencies in textbooks or instructional materials are identified, the governing board and county superintendent of schools are required to take action to ensure that these deficiencies are remedied promptly.
4. Inclusion of Diverse Groups in Social Sciences Instruction: The bill requires instruction in social sciences to include a study of the role and contributions of people of all genders, Latino Americans, LGBTQ+ Americans, and members of other ethnic, cultural, religious, and socioeconomic status groups.
5. Adoption of Instructional Materials: The legislation requires governing boards of school districts to include materials that accurately portray the cultural and racial diversity of society when adopting instructional materials for use in schools.
6. Prohibition of Refusal to Approve or Prohibit Certain Materials: The governing board of a school district, a county board of education, or the governing body of a charter school is prohibited from refusing to approve or prohibiting the use of any textbook, instructional material, or other curriculum, or any book or other resource in a school library, on the basis that it includes a study of the role and contributions of any individual or group, as specified in the bill.
The Phenomenon of “Book Challenges” and “Serial Filers”
In contrast to the recent California bill, there has been a rising trend across the country involving “book challenges” and “serial filers”.
A “book challenge” is when an individual or group requests the removal or restriction of a book or other educational material in a school or a library, often due to its perceived inappropriate or offensive content.
“Serial filers” are individuals who repeatedly file book challenges. They argue that their concerns are based on ensuring that educational materials align with their community’s values and standards.
However, critics contend that this practice can lead to excessive censorship and limit students’ access to a broad spectrum of ideas and perspectives.
This development is not without precedent. In 2021, the American Library Association reported that in 2020, there was an increase in books banned due to concerns over racial injustice and related content.
For example, a school board in Tennessee voted to ban the Pulitzer-winning graphic novel ‘Maus’ from its curriculum due to “inappropriate language” and depictions of violence. These instances underline the ongoing debate surrounding freedom of speech and censorship in educational settings.
The Bill’s Implications
The implications of this bill are far-reaching. It not only alters the dynamics of decision-making within school districts but also potentially sets a precedent for other states to follow. Those grappling with similar issues will be closely watching how the law is implemented and its resultant impact.
While the California lawmakers’ decision has been met with mixed reactions, it undeniably marks a significant moment in the ongoing debate about education, freedom of speech, and inclusivity. As the legislation takes effect, it will be interesting to observe its influence on the education landscape and whether it will spur similar steps in other jurisdictions.
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This article was produced by TPR Teaching.
Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.