Missouri students returning to school this week may notice a significant change in their literary options, as a new state law prohibits the presence of books containing sexually explicit content in schools. Enforced as part of an omnibus bill addressing sex crimes and crimes against minors, Senate Bill 775 was introduced by State Sen. Rick Brattin (R-Greenwood) and aims to curb the distribution of “explicit sexual materials” to students. While this law represents a significant measure to safeguard students from potentially harmful content, it has sparked discussions surrounding its implications for literary and educational materials that fall under its purview.
Legislative Parameters and Exceptions:
The newly implemented law explicitly prohibits educators in public or private K-12 Missouri schools from providing, distributing, or endorsing materials containing explicit sexual imagery. Defined as visual depictions portraying genitals or sexual intercourse, the law imposes stringent penalties, including a Class A misdemeanor charge, with a fine of up to $2,000 or imprisonment for a year. Notably, the law primarily targets books containing graphic imagery, with written descriptions remaining unaffected. Graphic novels and comic books, which often contain visual depictions, are expected to be significantly impacted by the legislation.
An exemption is provided for materials used in the context of art, science, and sexual education classes, underscoring the importance of preserving academic discourse and resources that contribute to students’ holistic educational development. However, the law places the onus on local prosecutors for enforcement, allowing for concerns to be raised by any individual within the community.
Educational Community Response and Support Initiatives:
In response to the implementation of the law, educational stakeholders, including school administrators, teachers’ associations, and school librarians, have emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach to address potential challenges. Michelle Baumstark, spokesperson for Columbia Public Schools, clarified that the legislation essentially serves as a reaffirmation of existing regulations, with the district already adhering to similar provisions outlined in Chapter 573 of Missouri law.
Expressing concerns about the potential impact on librarians, Todd Fuller of the Missouri Teachers Association urged schools to establish collaborative administrative processes for reviewing educational materials. The Missouri Association of School Librarians (MASL) has offered support to its members facing challenges, including drafting letters to school districts and providing assistance through the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
Preserving Intellectual Freedom and Educational Integrity:
MASL has emphasized its commitment to upholding the principles of intellectual freedom and the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights. Affirming its dedication to supporting school librarians in preserving the freedom to read, MASL stands in solidarity with educators facing potential challenges under the new legislation. As Missouri grapples with the implications of the new law, the educational community remains dedicated to ensuring a robust and comprehensive learning environment that upholds the values of intellectual freedom and academic integrity.