Senate passes ban on banning books after making changes reducing local decision making

Feb 22, 2024, 4:14 PM | Updated: 7:02 pm


Library bookshelf. (Photo by Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images)

(Photo by Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images)

In what has become one of the more controversial subjects this legislative session, the Washington State Senate passed a bill aimed at addressing the banning of books and instructional materials related to individuals or groups within protected classes.

The legislation is a reaction to many states banning materials that relate to the LGBTQ+ community.

“It is so important that we stand up and stand alongside young people who may not feel welcomed in their classrooms or the school districts or their communities but find a welcoming space in a book that reflects them,” said LGBTQ caucus member Senator Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, before the floor vote was taken.

ESHB 2331 passed along a party-line vote, 29-20, on Thursday, with the Democratic majority voting in favor of passage.

The Senate changed the original bill that passed the House 58-39 on Feb. 10.

The most significant change removes the ability to appeal a district superintendent’s decision about a book to the local school board.

Background story: A reversal of fortune concerning book banning in Washington

Additionally, any decision by a superintendent may not be reconsidered for a minimum of three years unless there is a substantive change in circumstances as determined by the superintendent.

Republicans argued that allowing a district’s superintendent to be the final decision-maker erodes the power of a local school board, whose members are elected by the community.

“The legislature is slowly moving school boards towards extinction,” Sen. Ann Rivers, R-Vancouver, said.

Rivers explained school boards won’t be needed soon because the legislature will be acting as the ‘school board in the sky’ and dictating what districts must do rather than allowing the community to decide certain issues like banning books.

“When we take away local control, we are also taking away parental control to help define the way things happen in a school district,” Rivers added.

Under the revised legislation, school districts, charter schools, and state-tribal education compact schools would be barred from refusing to approve or prohibit any educational material involving a protected class.

However, the prohibition does not override discrimination prohibitions in state law, meaning that materials containing bias against any individual or group who is part of a protected class can be banned.

“It’s really important to tell the stories of a diverse community that exists all across the world,” the bill’s Senate sponsor, T’iana Nobles, D-Lakewood, said.

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Sen. Perry Dozier, R-Walla Walla, said the balance between telling stories of the LGBTQ community and graphic sexual material has been a problem for him.
“That’s where I struggle with this,” he said.

The bill requires the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, who oversees all school districts in the state, to create book-banning criteria for district superintendents to follow.

Should a parent or guardian feel a book should be banned or included in a curriculum, they can request it in writing to the school’s principal and the school’s Instructional Materials Committee (IMC).

Both the principal and the IMC must provide a written decision within 60 days of a meeting with the parent or guardian or within 90 days after the complaint was received, whichever is later.

Should the superintendent make a decision based on that request, the decision would involve only the student making the request and would not be applicable to all students in the district.

Republicans offered several amendments to restore local school board decision-making, but all failed.

More from Matt Markovich: Inmates can seek to leave prison sooner under Wash. House-passed bill

Senator Jim McCune, R-Graham, said many of the books in question he considered ‘pornographic’ and offered an amendment to remove all sexually explicit books.

“Schools cannot have printed or visual material of dirty sexual talk or pictures of sexual activity in our Kindergarten through 12th-grade schools. It’s a simple amendment, and if adopted, it would take care of the issue,” McCune said.

The amendment was not adopted.

Since the Senate changed the House bill, it now goes back to the House for further discussion.

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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Senate passes ban on banning books after making changes reducing local decision making