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New CT bill could curtail authority of local school boards to ban books

FILE: During a special session in June, 2023, the Newtown Board of Education members voted unanimously for a resolution to allow books "Flamer," by Mike Curato, and "Blankets," by Craig Thompson, to remain provided school administrators created a process for addressing individual parent concerns.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
FILE: During a special session in June, 2023, the Newtown Board of Education members voted unanimously for a resolution to allow books "Flamer," by Mike Curato, and "Blankets," by Craig Thompson, to remain provided school administrators created a process for addressing individual parent concerns.

As book ban challenges grow across the nation, lawmakers in Connecticut are considering a new proposal that could limit the authority of local and regional school boards to keep materials off library shelves.

Over 100 titles were challenged from January to August 2023 in Connecticut school libraries, according to the American Library Association. School libraries in Newtown, Guilford and elsewhere have found themselves debating what’s appropriate to keep on the shelves. 

State lawmakers are now considering a proposal that, if approved, would say that school boards would have to give a reason to block titles. But those reasons would be limited.

Banning school library materials for reasons like race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or the political or religious views of an author or character – wouldn’t be a valid reason. Material related to sexual health and the physical, mental, emotional or social aspects of human sexuality would also be protected.

Louis Haberlandt, an eighth grader from East Hartford, told members of the state’s Education Committee Monday that books like “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas have helped them explore new ideas.

“It brings up topics like systemic racism, violence and poverty,” Haberlandt said at the public hearing. “Things that make this book controversial, but things that also inspire debates, and new ideas about real problems in our society, and my school.”

Opponents of the bill say such a law could erode the role of local school boards, and several student parents shared testimonies expressing concern about explicit materials their children might be subjected to.

Haberlandt told lawmakers at the public hearing that everyone, including students, should have a right to weigh in on whether library materials are restricted or banned at schools.

“The question between what's appropriate for the kids in our schools, and what isn't, I feel, like, strays from book bannings and is really something that everyone needs to step up and talk about,” Haberlandt said.

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla Savitt focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. Michayla has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that she was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.