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Analysis

Opposing Sides Lining up Over Freedom to Read Act

Opposing Sides Lining up Over Freedom to Read Act

By Vince Conti

Upper Township resident Kelly Johnson speaking at the Ocean City school board meeting in February.
File Photo
Upper Township resident Kelly Johnson speaking at the Ocean City school board meeting in February.

On Jan. 29, state Sens. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex) and M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) introduced the “Freedom to Read Act,” a bill requiring the establishment of requirements for materials in public and school libraries. The bill also offers protection from harassment for librarians and library media specialists.

The bill is leading a number of organizations to take sides on the increasingly controversial issue of control over what young people in New Jersey can access and read.

Earlier this month, on April 11, the New Jersey Association of School Librarians released a statement of support for the legislation, calling it a “comprehensive, affirmative bill.” The New Jersey Library Association has also come out in support of the measure.

The Center for Garden State Families said on March 13 that the legislation’s intent is to remove control of school libraries from locally elected school boards. The center speaks of a “radical progressive left” and its “anti-family agenda,” which it says the Freedom to Read Act is part of.

The New Jersey School Boards Association says it supports the bill but that the ultimate authority to determine the appropriateness of material for any grade level should rest with local school boards.

Cape May County is not immune to the controversy.

Last June the Lower Cape May Regional School District decided that it would not ban books from the high school library, but it also said the school board may return to the issue of a policy in the future.

In February, Ocean City school board member Catherine Panico warned the public about what she claimed would be the harmful impact of the Freedom to Read Act.

The issues are many, involving concerns about how LGBTQ lifetyles are presented, how racial themes are treated, where control over library content should rest, how to deal with sexually explicit material and the rights of parents with respect to state or local policies.

The bill claims that opposition to certain themes in library material has been carried too far, stating that “school library media specialists and librarians have been targeted, harassed, and defamed for providing young people access to library material.”

In an effort to limit the impact of outside groups that have no ties to the community or the school district, the bill requires that a district’s policy for requesting removal of material from the library can only come from someone with a “vested interest,” meaning someone from the teaching staff, a parent of a current student or a student herself or himself.

The Senate bill, along with an identical bill in the Assembly, have been in the education committees in their respective houses. Neither bill has been voted on in committee.

Contact the reporter, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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