A reversal of fortune concerning book banning in Washington

Feb 12, 2024, 2:49 PM | Updated: Feb 13, 2024, 4:57 pm

Library books...

Library books. (Photo by Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

(Photo by Sebastian Kahnert/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Lawmakers in the state House have passed a bill that essentially bans the banning of books that focus on people of a protected or marginalized class.

The bill prevents local school boards from creating policies to remove or restrict materials in the classroom or library that focus on themes of people of a legally protected class.

The definition of a protected class can be found in many state laws that prevent discrimination based on race, age, or sexual preference.

House Bill 2331 passed along party lines, 58-39, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against it.

Rep. Nicole Macri, D-Seattle, said the genesis of the bill is a recent national push to ban books related to the LGBTQ+ community.

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“Most often, we are seeing that happening to young adult novels where the protagonist is female, queer, or non-binary,” Macri said on the floor of the House just before Saturday’s vote.

School districts would be unable to refuse to approve or prohibit the use of textbooks, instructional materials, or other curriculum solely because they address contributions or roles of individuals or groups from protected classes.

However, materials found to contain bias against any protected class can still be rejected.

Macri, a member of the LGBTQ caucus, said self-affirming books helped her during her early years.

“I can relate to reading stories that describe my experience when I had a lot of self-doubt and didn’t feel like I fit in,” she said.

Macri added that banning books that tell students that their self-identity experiences are not valid and they don’t fit in jeopardizes their self-esteem.

“We increase their anxiety, we increase their depression, we increase the suicidal ideation that we know that our LGBTQ students experience at a much higher rate than their peers,” Macri said.

Starting in the 2025-2026 school year, school districts must create policies following guidelines from the state Superintendent of Public Instruction about how books are reviewed should a challenge arise.

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A parent would have to be the one to initiate the challenge, but it’s unclear if the parent must have a student in the district where the challenge is made.

Opposition to the bill

Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla, opposes the bill and says there are many in the state who feel there are many books in schools that are inappropriate.

“I think there is sometimes confusion between the protected class status and the inappropriate material,” he said.

“For example, there are materials that include sexually explicit material. It doesn’t matter if that act is happening between somebody who is part of a protected class or not. It’s about the inappropriate material that’s sexually explicit,” Rude said.

Colorado, Kansas, New Jersey, New Mexico and Massachusetts reportedly have or are in the process of legislating book bans.

The proposal would include public schools, charter schools, and state-supported tribal schools.

Several lawmakers argued the need for local control over what books are in school libraries and the instructional materials of a curriculum.

“The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, a partisan office, is the furthest removed from a local community and should not be making these final decisions,” says Rep. Peter Abbarno (R-Centralia).

“It should be with the parents working with their schools and with their teachers, to make sure that there’s appropriate material within those schools,” he added.

A companion bill in the Senate, SB 6208, did not pass out of committee before its required deadline.

The House version, HB 2331, now goes to the Senate.

Since the Senate failed to pass a similar version, the likelihood of HB 2331 passing the Senate in the short legislative session appears unlikely.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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A reversal of fortune concerning book banning in Washington