A number of Missouri school districts have reportedly begun purging books from their library shelves, in anticipation of the new state law intended to crack down on "sexually explicit" materials being available to students.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, signed the bill into law in June. It obliges public school administrators, faculty and staff to shield their students — particularly those 17 and younger — from material that could be construed as racy or sexually provocative.
The state law, which takes effect Aug. 28, is a Class A misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Missouri law defines "explicit sexual material" as any images or written descriptions of sexual acts or nudity.
As a qualifier, however, such restrictions do not apply to learning content with diagrams about human anatomy, or materials relating to classical works of art.
The above definition notwithstanding, some parties speculate the new law can still be interpreted in various ways.
"School library collections contain both works of art and informational texts, and school library books, whether fiction or non-fiction, meet both of those requirements," the Missouri Association of School Librarians wrote this week in a statement. "Therefore, school districts should refrain from pre-emptively removing school library materials" to comply with the upcoming Missouri law.
The association also believes the new law could be a threat to students pursing "intellectual freedom" in their academic endeavors.
"This is concerning on many levels," the association wrote in the statement. "The immense impact of facing a challenge and will support our librarians in solidarity to preserve intellectual freedom."
In February, four months before Parsons signed the measure into law, the ACLU of Missouri protested the removal of eight books by the Wentzville school district's board, arguing that the targeted books focused on race, sexual orientation, gender identity or "marginalized" communities.
The Wentzville Board of Education reportedly "backtracked" on its decision to permanently ban Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," but the other books — which tangibly featured LGBTQ+ characters — were still removed.
"School boards cannot ban books because the books and their characters illustrate viewpoints different of those of school board; especially when they target books presenting the viewpoints of racial and sexual minorities, as they have done in Wentzville," ACLU representative Anthony Rothert said at the time.
Other states have also begun pondering restrictions for "sexually explicit" materials in schools.
In December, Newsmax reported that a school district in San Antonio removed more than 400 books from its library shelves.
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