Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill into law that aims to stop school book bans on racial and LGBTQ+ topics as a new report warns of an increase in such censorship across the nation.
It also comes as some Huntington Beach politicians consider regulating what books are available at city libraries and as some parents at local school districts worry about age-inappropriate books being available to young students.
The new law, AB 1078, allows the state to fine school districts that ban books that deal with topics related to race, gender or sexual orientation.
“From Temecula to Tallahassee, fringe ideologues across the country are attempting to whitewash history and ban books from schools. With this new law, we’re cementing California’s role as the true freedom state: a place where families — not political fanatics — have the freedom to decide what’s right for them,” Newsom said in a Sept. 25 news release.
In Orange County, book ban concerns have surfaced in at least two school districts this year as well as in Surf City.
Over the Summer, Huntington Beach City Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark called for a system to limit access to “obscene” books to children at local public libraries, saying she’d discovered multiple “pornographic” children’s books in the catalogs.
In response, City Councilwoman Rhonda Bolton is now proposing asking voters in an election whether or not city officials should be allowed to remove or restrict access to books at local libraries.
Bolton pointed to the new state law at a Thursday special meeting.
“I can see a court easily applying the same logic to our attempt – the city’s attempt to ban books from the library,” she said. “What I am suggesting is that we keep politicians out of the library.”
“I don’t know when this cultural war stuff is going to stop.”
Van Der Mark pushed back on Bolton’s use of the word ban and called Bolton’s proposal premature.
“We are actually trying to protect kids with books from certain sexually explicit language and we are empowering parents,” she said. “Not a single book is being banned from the library.”
Councilman Pat Burns also criticized Bolton’s proposal.
“I don’t believe that somebody like a librarian should be unchecked,” he said.
City staff said a proposal on a library book policy requested by Van Der Mark will be coming before the council on Oct. 17.
Thursday’s meeting in Surf City took place after PEN America, a literary and rights advocacy group, warned earlier this year that book bans have been increasing across the country.
According to a report by the group, there were 3,363 instances of book bans at K-12 public schools in the 2022-23 academic year – a 33% increase from the prior school year.
About 40% of those bans took place in Florida, according to the report.
“Authors whose books are targeted are most frequently female, people of color, and/or LGBTQ+ individuals,” reads the PEN America website.
“Over the past two years, coordinated and ideologically driven threats, challenges, and legislation directed at public school classrooms and libraries have spurred a wave of book bans unlike any in recent memory.”
In recent years, school boards in OC and across the country have become political and cultural battlegrounds with meetings rocked by intense debates on ethnic studies courses and more recently transgender notification policies like one recently passed in the Orange Unified School District.
In 2021 – amid the COVID pandemic – school boards across Orange County saw waves of students, parents and teachers rallying for local school districts to put a greater emphasis on teaching the historical plight of people of color and expand the scope of U.S. history.
Others worried that such classes are just a guise to politically indoctrinate students and teach anti-American, racist and marxist ideals.
Meanwhile, Huntington Beach isn’t the only place where people have raised concerns about book bans in OC.
Earlier this year, trustees in the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School Board raised concerns about some of the language used towards women in an Iranian revolution book that was piloted with 11th grade students.
Some worried the book itself – Persepolis: The Story of Childhood – would be banned.
In the end, trustees narrowly voted to revise their book selection policy to require trustees to vote on books before they get tested with students and approve the book.
The decision left some parents and students worried that the revised policy would open the door to book bans and strip the voice of educators in deciding curriculum material.
Fears of book bans also popped up in Orange Unified School District earlier this year after district officials temporarily suspended their digital library following concerns of age inappropriate books being available to younger students.
California’s anti-book ban bill passed through the senate on Sept. 7, with the Orange County’s state senate delegation voting along political lines.
Senators Tom Umberg (D-Anaheim), Dave Min (D-Irvine), Catherine Blakespeare (D-Encinitas) and Bob Archuleta (D-Pico Rivera) voted in favor of the bill.
Senator Kelly Seyarto (R-Murrieta) voted against it.
Both Min and Newman spoke in favor of the bill on the senate floor.
“I wish this bill was not necessary but unfortunately, we have seen the politicization of our schools today. And to me, that’s unconscionable. Books should not be banned. Education should be freely out there,” Min said on Sept. 7, using Orange Unified as an example.
State Senator Janet Nguyen (R- Garden Grove) did not vote, but said it’s not a matter of banning certain issues but rather ensuring books that young kids can access are age appropriate.
“There’s no discussion of book bans,” she said on Sept. 7 on the senate floor. “It’s about making sure that we as parents are given the opportunity to know what our children are looking at.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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