Another state has entered the ranks of those introducing bills to combat the rampant book banning in public schools and libraries. Washington now joins New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
House Bill 2331 was introduced by Representative Monica Jurado Stonier and is cosponsored by several other state representatives, including Nicole Macri, Lauren Davis, Gerry Pollet, Julia Reed, and Alex Ramel. There is a companion bill in the state Senate as well, SB 6208.
The bill would make it so that school boards cannot implement policies that intentionally remove or restrict materials in the library or in classrooms that features stories or themes of people under legally protected classes. In other words, books by or about people of color and/or LGBTQ+ books would not be discriminate against based on those topics.
“We know that banning and burning books are go-to moves for dictators around the world, especially when they target minority authors and topics,” wrote Jurado Stonier on Facebook. “As an educator, I know how important it is for kids to have access to books that are written by or feature characters who look like them or have common experiences. That’s why I am proud to sponsor HB 2331 that would prohibit the removal of books from classrooms and libraries through discriminatory practices.”
Also included in the bill is the requirement that by the 2025-2026 school year, every district has clear, documented policies about where and how books are reviewed were a challenge to arise. That policy would require the challenge be made in writing by a parent. Parent is key here–those lodging complaints about materials would need to have a student enrolled in the school where the challenge is made.
Policies would also outline who comprises a book review committee. Parent and community engagement would be limited to less than one-half of the entire committee.
The bill is focused on school libraries, though the state has also been advancing a bill relate to public libraries. That bill, Senate Bill 5824, engrossed in early January, makes it more difficult to dissolve public libraries and public library districts. Inspiration for this bill came following attempts to dissolve the Columbia County Public Library in Dayton, Washington, last year. The initiative to defund that library came when several vocal community members were unhappy with the existence of LGBTQ+ books on shelves. When the residents pushed for a vote to cease library services, a loophole in the state law would have meant many actual residents of the town would not have been able to vote. SB 5824 closes the loophole.
Although the state has a reputation for being “blue,” the reality is that book bans are happening in Washington. In many cases, the challenges and book bans are more often under the radar, with removals falling under the quiet/silent censorship umbrella. One such example happened in Kent, outside of Seattle, where administration sought to remove several LGBTQ+ books from a middle school library. The librarian at the school, Gavin Downing, fought the challenges and was successful.
The American Library Association recorded 7 attempts to restrict access to books in Washington between January and August 2023 alone, with 20 book titles challenged. This placed the state among the middle percentage for censorship attempts in this time frame. PEN America recorded no book bans in school districts during the 2022-2023 school year–again, likely because most of those attempts at censorship have not been reported. Censorship attempts since 2021 happened in institutions such as Kent School District, Walla Walla School District, Kennewick School District, Bremerton School District, Central Kitsap School District, and Mukilteo School District 6.
House Bill 2331 passed the House Committee on Education January 29. More action is to come on the bill. If you are a Washington resident, take 10 minutes to write your representatives in support of the bill. You have a wealth of statistics at your fingertips, including those found in the recent Book Riot x Every Library Institute research about how much libraries are supported by their communities.
Washington residents can also sign this petition to urge legislators to pass the anti-book ban bills in the House and Senate.