New Missouri law bans ‘sexually explicit’ books from schools

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

Students may see fewer book options when returning to class this week, but only if those books contained sexually explicit images.

A law banning books with explicit or sexually inappropriate images in Missouri schools went into effect Sunday. Senate Bill 775 prohibits teachers from providing “explicit sexual materials” to students.

Under this law, any educator, in public or private K-12 Missouri schools, who “provides, assigns, supplies, distributes, loans, or coerces acceptance of or the approval of the providing of explicit sexual material” will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $2,000 or a year in prison.

It’s part of an omnibus bill on sex crimes and crimes against minors that includes the Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights. The addition of the “Offense of Providing Explicit Sexual Material to a Student: section was introduced by State Sen. Rick Brattin (R-Greenwood).

This law only applies to pictures and images, written descriptions are not affected. Because of this, graphic novels and comic books are likely to be the most impacted genre. “Explicit sexual material” is defined as a visual depiction showing genitals or sexual intercourse, among other things. The full definition can be found in the bill text.

There is an exception for art, science materials and sexual education classes.

While any person can raise a concern under this law, it can only be enforced by a local prosecutor.

Michelle Baumstark, spokesperson for Columbia Public Schools, said this is more of a clarification than a law change. Baumstark said the definition of explicit sexual material mirrors a rule that’s been on Missouri books for 50 years, Chapter 573.

“This really isn’t a new law, but rather a clarification of an already existing law that Columbia Public Schools already follows,” Baumstark said. “Overall, RSMO 573.550 does not apply to library materials or other works used in the District’s curriculum. We do not have such materials in our collections. Works of art and scientific materials being the exception under the law.”

Todd Fuller with the Missouri Teachers Association said only a few members have reached out to him so far for clarification on the law. Fuller advises schools to make a plan for reviewing material that involves administration so librarians are not taking on the full responsibility.

“That’s our biggest concern is that no librarian, which is a member of ours, feels like they are placed on an island to make a decision about a book and whether it should be in the library or not,” Fuller said.

Missouri Association of School Librarians outlined some options for any librarians who are challenged about a book. The association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee offers to draft a letter to school districts or boards of education; the executive council of the association is also offering to draft a letter in support of a member who is challenged on a book.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom offers to assist with book challenges.

“The Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL) is committed to protecting the Freedom to Read, the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Bill of Rights, and the essential tenets of intellectual freedom,” MASL says in a written statement.

“MASL stands with all school librarians. We understand the immense impact of facing a challenge and will support our librarians to preserve intellectual freedom,” said the statement.

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