New rule proposing to ban books with “pornographic materials”

Ryan Walters claims a school in the Oklahoma City School District had a “grossly inappropriate” book which has led him to propose new censorship regulations for school libraries.

Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters is pushing for punishments for schools who have obscene materials in their libraries.

He began this campaign as a reaction to a book he claimed to be a part of the Oklahoma City Public School collection. He described it as “grossly inappropriate” and publicly railed against the school district despite their claim that it was not in fact a part of their collection.

Walters now wants the State Board of Education to be able to downgrade the accreditation status of districts that have books or items found to contain what he describes as “pornographic materials” or “sexualized content.” He released a video criticizing the school district for allegedly having a graphic novel depicting sexual scenes at one of their schools. A post by a right wing social media account is what initially made the claim that the book “Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human” was available at one of their schools. The district has asserted that this book is not a part of their physical or digital library.

In response to Walters’ video the school district explained in a series of tweets that this book was removed previously following an audit of their library, but they did not provide when it was removed.

Walters has officially asked the State Board of Education to approve the administrative rule he proposed. This rule would expand the board oversight on school libraries and allow them to reprimand districts based on their contents.

This rule, if implemented, would be part of a larger trend of book censorship in schools implemented nationwide by republicans.

If Walters is successful Oklahoma public school districts will be required to annually report all library content to the State Board of Education, and both the school district and the State Board of Education would need to implement a way to respond to all complaints about library contents.

The State Board of Education already has regulations concerning sensitive content in school materials. There is little difference in the state’s definition of “obscene material” which they already regulate, and Walters’ definition of the “pornographic materials” and “sexualized content” he wants to fight against. Walters defines these as:

“Pornographic materials”:
Depictions or descriptions of sexual content which are patently offensive as found by the average person applying contemporary community standards, considering the youngest age of students with access to the material. Materials that, taken as a whole, have as the dominant theme an appeal to prurient interest in sex as found by the average person applying contemporary community standards. A reasonable person would find the material or performance, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, educational, political or scientific purposes or value.

“Sexualized content”:
Not strictly pornographic but otherwise containing excessive sexual material.

The administrative rule proposed by Walters is also similar to the rules adopted in Oklahoma following House Bill 1775, which bans teaching about concepts such as gender and race. House Bill 1775 allows the State Board of Education to downgrade accreditations for schools that both teach about these concepts or provide materials that discuss these concepts. Two school districts, Tulsa and Mustang Public School, have already had their accreditation downgraded as a result of this bill. The addition of Walters’ administrative rule would likely increase the loss of accreditations in school districts across the state.

Post Author: Aurora Stewart